We hate to bring it up, but tax season is upon us. Have you filed your taxes yet?
Everyone dreads doing taxes, but filing online offers a convenience that makes the process a little less stressful. However, while doing your taxes online can simplify a trying time of year, it's also subject to many security risks.
Though Macs aren’t susceptible to all of the same issues Windows computers have, you still need to be careful with your tax information. Filing your taxes online poses certain risks no matter what operating system you choose. Here are some security tips you can implement to keep your information a little safer when filing your taxes online.
1. Protect and Clean Your Mac Before Filing Taxes
If you do your taxes in an already at-risk environment, your information is more likely to be compromised. For instance, if a keylogger is on your computer and recording your sensitive financial and identity information, this could mean an extra hassle after you file if your identity is stolen. To avoid any potential issues, make use of a trusted Mac antivirus program to find and eliminate any security threats that could endanger your information.
Your desktop isn't the only area you should focus on. From Google Chrome to Safari, whichever Web browser you use could use some cleaning before you enter in any important information. To do this, make sure you go to your browser settings and clear both caches and cookies before you get started on your tax return.
2. Update Your Software to Patch Vulnerabilities
Outdated software can be just as much of a security risk as a compromised operating system. Older software doesn't have the same security that more up-to-date technology offers, because hackers have had more time to find exploitable security weaknesses. So if you're using TurboTax, H&R Block or similar programs, make sure you have the program intended for the appropriate tax year—the most current version will have the most security support.
As an added bonus, using current tax software will ensure you are abiding by current laws and deadlines, which could help protect you from audits or fees.
3. Store Your Information in Several Secure Locations
Make sure you keep your tax returns from the past three years, as the IRS can perform audits on those tax returns. But remember: Keeping your information in only one location is a good way to lose it.
There are several ways you can safely store physical copies of your documents, including making use of a safe deposit box or home safe. Make copies of your digital documents, too, and keep them stored in several locations—not just on one computer. If anything happens to your device, or if a malicious program holds your documents for ransom, you’ll be glad to have backups. A USB or other external drive is a great place to store additional copies of your tax documents.
4. Make Sure Your Passwords Are Secure
The easier it is to log into your tax-related accounts, the faster a hacker or information thief can compromise your data. The first barrier of protection between the data on your Mac or your accounts and a thief is the password you use; so, keep that fence strong by setting a strong password.
Don’t use the same password across all accounts, and especially avoid using a duplicate password on your tax accounts. Using a combination of upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers adds another layer of security, while using common words and personal information makes it easier for thieves to guess your passwords. Longer passwords are harder to crack, so make sure you use a minimum of ten characters.
Finally, if you haven't changed your passwords in a while, do so before you dive into your taxes—not after.
5. Know Which Sites You Can Trust
While you're filing your tax return, it's likely you'll need to consult online information to make sure you're doing it correctly. Knowing what sites you can trust will prevent you from making costly mistakes. Look to the URL ending for a good indicator of authority. Sites ending in “.gov”—like the IRS official website, www.IRS.gov—are more official than sites like IRS.com or IRS.net, which aren’t backed by the US government.
Another good way to make sure the website you use is safe and reliable is to make sure the web address begins with “https,” as opposed to “http.” Sites beginning with https send data over encrypted connections to protect your information and make it more difficult to intercept. If a web page doesn't display “https”—or if your browser warns you of an insecure connection—don't use that site.
6. Avoid Interacting with Ads While Filing Your Taxes
Unsolicited advertisements are one of the most prominent ways malware can get on your computer. Clicking on ads could loop you through a series of redirects to get to a website you have no way of verifying. The more sites you are directed to, the more opportunities for your data to be compromised. It’s never a good idea to click on unknown links, but especially not when you are filing your taxes.
Keep in mind that the IRS will only initiate communication through physical mail. If you have not previously requested information from the IRS, but receive a phone call or email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, do not give them any of your information.
7. File Your Tax Return Early
The IRS doesn't have time to verify all tax returns at once. However, the agency does watch for multiple filings under the same social security number. By getting your tax return in early, you increase the chances that your correct return will be filed first, making it harder for identity thieves to access your refund.
By implementing some of the tips above, you are taking steps to protect your tax information and most importantly your identity.