Tips: Prevent Data Loss During Tax Season
Most taxpayers are attuned to the threat of identity theft and would likely shred old paper returns before putting them out with the trash. Few, however, take similar precautions when sharing personal, current, tax-related information electronically. As the busy tax season approaches, WatchDox, a document control, tracking and protection solution, shares several tips with taxpayers to prevent the risk of data loss during filing season.
1. Be wary of phishing scams. The IRS reported in 2008 that it had received a total of 33,000 scam e-mails over the years, all of which were forwarded by taxpayers. Those e-mails, the agency said, represent 1,500 different schemes. The IRS does not use e-mail to communicate with taxpayers. If a message shows up in your inbox purporting to be from the IRS, it is almost certainly a scam.
2. Protect your personally identifiable information (PII). Tax forms, by necessity, contain PII that could be valuable to identity thieves. If someone requests your Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone or via e-mail, decline to share that data.
3. Determine whether your PC is one of the 60 percent of machines in the country infected by malware. Malicious software makes its way onto personal computers via e-mail and the Internet. These Trojan horses, viruses, worms and other unwanted programs can put data at risk. Ensure computers are malware-free by keeping anti-virus software updated, using a personal firewall, and making sure to act sensibly. Don’t open attachments unless they are absolutely necessary and come from trusted sources. Don’t surf unknown websites, and don’t download suspicious applications from the Internet.
4. Use e-mail with caution. E-mail is not a secure way of sending sensitive documents. If you must use it, make sure your e-mail provider uses secure sockets layer (SSL). Look for the “https://” prefix in the address bar.
5. Protect your documents. You can encrypt your documents using Winzip or other tools, or use even stronger services that deliver protection, control and tracking of your documents even after they have been sent. Keep in mind that unprotected documents can leak even after they arrive at their destination.
“This season is a boon to identity thieves, who are eager to take advantage of taxpayers who share personal and sensitive data over insecure channels,” said Adi Ruppin, vice president of marketing and business development of WatchDox. “With some common sense and simple technology solutions, individuals can easily protect their documents and file their taxes securely.”