How to file taxes online safely
December 15, 2021
Identity theft remains a serious problem in the United States, including at tax time. That’s one reason why it’s smart to know how to safely file taxes online.
Many forms of identity theft crimes are well known, such as thieves running up the credit card bills of victims or using their online checking accounts to make fraudulent purchases. But thieves can also use your personal information — such as your birthdate, address, and Social Security number — to take out personal loans in your name, pocketing the proceeds from these loans while sticking you with the payments.
The challenge? The more you use technology the more apt you could be to become a victim of identity theft. And if you file your taxes online — like a growing number of U.S. taxpayers do — you're potentially exposing your personal information to anetwork of hackers and scammers.
Then there's tax-related identity theft. This is when criminals use your personal information to file a tax return in your name. The goal of these scammers? To steal your tax refund.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't file your taxes online. Filing online is convenient and can eliminate many of the hassles of filing your income tax returns. Fortunately, you can protect against identity theft crimes and still enjoy the convenience of filing your taxes online. It's all about taking the following steps to keep your personal and financial information private when filing your taxes.
1. Get an IP PIN
Ever file a tax return only to discover that someone else has already filed a return in your name? You can help prevent this type of identity theft by registering for an IP PIN.
This tool, an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number, is designed to make it more challenging for scammers to file false tax returns in the names of other taxpayers. An IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that you submit when you file your return. Identity thieves, then, would need to know this six-digit number, too, to file a false return in your name, offering you an extra layer of protection.
You can get your IP PIN by logging onto the Get an IPN tool offered by the IRS. You will have to verify your identity to do this.
2. Install security software
Install and run Internet security and antivirus software on all your devices. If your computers or devices are not protected by this software, cybercriminals could take advantage of vulnerabilities and access your personal information, such as your Social Security number, tax information or bank accounts.
If you’re filing your taxes with an online service, hackers can gain most of this information in one location. To help avoid this possibility, use trusted security software for all your devices.
And when your software alerts you to an update, approve it quickly. Or set your system to allow automatic updates. Updates are often designed to target the latest viruses or security threats.
3. Avoid public Wi-Fi
It's best to avoid public Wi-Fi for anything related to your finances, including working on your tax return. Public Wi-Fi is notoriously easy for hackers to access. These criminals can then spy on your keystrokes and learn your passwords. Armed with this information, they can access your online bank or credit card accounts. They might also be able to snag your Social Security number, which could help them file a tax return in your name.
If you must use public Wi-Fi only use it for unimportant tasks, such as reading your favorite blogs, checking the weather, or reading reviews of restaurants in your area.
4. Use a VPN
A virtual public network, or VPN, is a key tool to safeguard your privacy when online. When you use one of these services, you'll first connect to your VPN before logging onto the internet. The VPN creates a type of tunnel that encrypts the data you send and receive, hiding that activity from snoops. It also hides your IP address. Scammers will only be able to see the IP address of the VPN you are working with.
Using a VPN, then, can hide your personal and financial information when you are filing your taxes online. You should always use a VPN when accessing your financial accounts or when you are sharing your financial information.
Be careful, too, when choosing a VPN. You can find free services, but they may not be as secure as VPNs that charge a fee.
5. Back up your data
Ransomware attacks are a serious issue. In these attacks, hackers infect your devices with malicious software that locks them, preventing you from accessing any of your files or information. The hackers behind these attacks then demand that you pay them a ransom — often in Bitcoin — to unlock your devices.
The best protection against these attacks, in addition to antivirus software, is to back up your data on an external drive or cloud account. Then, if your computer is being held hostage, you can still access your important data without having to pay a ransom.
This is important when filing your taxes online, too. While working on your taxes, back up all your financial data to an external drive. After you’re done filing, you can delete any tax information stored on your device and save it on your external drive. This will prevent hackers from uncovering this important information if they should infect your computer or other devices.
6. Create strong passwords
This is old advice, but it still holds true: You should always use strong, unique passwords at any important personal or financial sites. It’s more difficult for hackers to crack passwords that include a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers.
This is true, too, when you are using an online site or software to file your taxes. You want to make it as difficult as possible for hackers to access these sites, especially when doing so can give them access to your tax information.
7. Use two-factor authentication
If you’re using an online service to file your taxes, make sure to enable two-factor authentication. With two-factor authentication, hackers have to know not just your password and username to log onto a site, but also a secret code number.
The process works like this: When you log into a site equipped with two-factor authentication, you first enter your username and password like usual. The site then sends a code, usually a six-digit number, to one of your other devices, usually your phone. You’ll then enter the code to finish logging into the site.
Hackers, then, can’t log into the site unless they have access to the unique code. It’s one more layer of protection for your key financial information, and a step you should take when using online services to file your income taxes.
Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.
Copyright © 2022 NortonLifeLock Inc. All rights reserved. NortonLifeLock, the NortonLifeLock Logo, the Checkmark Logo, Norton, LifeLock, and the LockMan Logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of NortonLifeLock Inc. or its affiliates in the United States and other countries. Firefox is a trademark of Mozilla Foundation. Android, Google Chrome, Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google, LLC. Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. Alexa and all related logos are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Microsoft and the Window logo are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the U.S. and other countries. The Android robot is reproduced or modified from work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.