RISMEDIA, March 24, 2009-(MCT)-As April 15 approaches and taxpayers scramble to complete their tax returns, it’s critical that they take extra care to guard their personal information. Consider what’s exposed and vulnerable: your Social Security number, address, name and financial information. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, “These numbers can be a gold mine for identity thieves. Your personal information can enable a thief to obtain a job, open up new lines of credit, access existing financial accounts or stock portfolios, get welfare, avoid a criminal history and generally create havoc in your life.”
So here’s how to protect yourself:
1. Run a full scan of your computer before doing your taxes. “You’ve got the best chance of finding something that somehow got past your antivirus protection and is lurking there,” said Ray Dickenson, chief technology officer at Authentium, which develops Internet security software.
“Remember that fraud issues aren’t necessarily contained within the website you visit. The so-called ‘malware’ (malicious software) may already be within your PC, which then exposes your personal and financial information to cybercrooks.”
2. Disable file-sharing software. “File-sharing programs such as LimeWire make files on your computer visible to other users on the Internet,” Dickenson said. “When you install a file-sharing program like LimeWire, the program automatically shares your music and almost any kind of file, including Word documents and Adobe PDF files with everyone else on the Internet.” Make sure your antivirus programs are up to date, but know that antivirus programs can’t find all the malware that may be on your PC.
3. Understand how electronic tax-filing products keep your information secure. “The privacy and security of customer data is a top priority for Intuit,” said Julie Miller, spokeswoman for Intuit, which manufactures the popular TurboTax tax-filing software. The online version of TurboTax stores your tax information on a firewall-protected server and can only be accessed using your user name and password.
If you use the desktop version of TurboTax, the information is downloaded and stored on your computer. “The data file saved to your desktop is automatically encrypted,” Miller said. “We also recommend that customers take advantage of adding a password to that data file.”
4. Take advantage of the Free File Alliance program. The Free File Alliance, a coalition of 19 private tax software companies, has partnered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide free, electronic federal tax preparation services to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $56,000 or less. You can access it only through the IRS’ Web site at www.irs.gov.
In the end, you shouldn’t depend solely on the government or any other source to protect your taxpayer information. You are your first and best line of defense.
© 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.