Protecting Your Privacy During Tax Season

By Aisheh Barghouti

Americans now have an extra 90 days to file their 2019 federal taxes because of the coronavirus — but protecting your important information is critical, particularly if filing online.

The IRS has been a regular target of data breaches in recent years.
In 2015, an investigation by the agency found that hackers sought to access more than 200,000 accounts — and about half of these attempts were successful.

The IRS processed more than 81 million tax returns as of March 20. Of these, over 65 million filers received refunds, averaging $2,936, the agency said.

Here are five ways to protect your information during tax season.

Make sure your computer’s software is up-to-date. Those handy pop-ups that alert us to download and install updates can be annoying, but they are the best way to protect yourself from bad actors on the internet.

Verify whether the site is secure. If you file your taxes online, make sure the site you use has an “https”– not just “http” at the start of the web address. The “s” denotes a secure, encrypted connection.

Be mindful of who you trust with your data. Some box-store tax filing pop-ups are ubiquitous, but are they the best choice to handle your sensitive information? Ask questions about how the company protects your information. Federal law requires accounting firms to have a Tax Data Security Plan on file — and you have the right to see it.

Create strong passwords. Have distinct passwords for your e-mail accounts and finances. Essentially, have different passwords for each layer of protection. Someone trying to access your bank information might try to reset your password through that site. They would then have to figure out your e-mail password to access the reset code.

Make two-factor authentication your go-to method of protection. Without access to both your e-mail and phone, hackers could not get very far in obtaining your information.

Be vigilant against phishing scams. Scammers use phishing schemes, social engineering and intimidation to convince taxpayers to spend thousands of dollars to stay out of trouble with the IRS.

Exercise good judgment. The IRS will never send e-mails asking for money or sensitive information. They will not call you seeking money.

Should you find yourself on the receiving end of a caller claiming to be with the IRS, hang up immediately. If you have any doubt about the validity of the call or any charges against you, call the IRS at (844) 545-5640.

Watch out for indicators that your data has been compromised. If you receive notifications about loans for which you haven’t applied, letters about returns you didn’t file or transcripts you never requested, report them immediately to the IRS.

Aisheh Barghouti is a Digital Privacy News Staff Writer.

Sources:

  • www. irs.gov/newsroom/how-to-protect-your-private-tax-data
  • www. nytimes.com/2017/04/06/us/politics/internal-revenue-service-breach-taxpayer-data.html
  • www. nytimes.com/2015/05/27/business/breach-exposes-irs-tax-returns.html
  • www. nytimes.com/2020/01/31/your-money/hacker-cybersecurity-protection-tips.html?searchResultPosition=1
  • www. consumerreports.org/privacy/ways-to-protect-digital-privacy/