The April 18 deadline to file taxes is fast approaching, and we have some advice for you procrastinators on how to protect your data — and money — from hackers and scammers.
And if you’ve already sent your stuff in, some of this might help you prepare for next year.
The IRS is expecting more than 150 million returns this year, and about 80 percent of them will be prepared using software. With so many people filing their taxes on their own, it makes it even more important to have strong passwords, a safe place to archive sensitive documents and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Here are some tips to help you file your taxes safely:
- Use strong passwords. Make sure you create passwords on all of your devices that contain important information. Passwords should have capital letters and special characters to prevent hacking. Keep in mind that easy-to-remember passwords are also easy to guess, and using the same password for multiple websites puts you at higher risk for identity theft or a security breach. For more tips on passwords and how to make them super strong, check out this Geek Squad article.
- Check those URLs. When you’re filing online, make sure you are using the correct website links. Misspelled words in URLs are a common way to fool someone and open a door to gaining personal information. Double-check them to help prevent fraud and identity theft.
- Archive smarter by keeping all of your W-2s and tax-prep documents in one place. Be organized when it comes time to sit down and file your return. If you didn’t do it this year, then here’s how you can for next time: Create a folder on your computer to archive financial documents. Put it in a place you will remember, or on the desktop, and make sure all documents are placed here. This will save time when you are trying to file, so you are not digging for necessary financial documents.
- Did we say ‘Keep all your documents in one place’? You might want to consider two (or more) places once you’ve completed your return to ensure you have proper backups of all your documents for any future needs. Many tax-preparation software companies offer the ability to save the tax return in their online system for use in future returns, so check the instructions for that software. You’ll still want to ensure you have backups of all of your documents and financial records, whether it’s on a USB hard drive connected to your PC, or a protected online backup service. While you’re backing your documents up, go ahead and backup your family photos and other important files. It’s also possible to use certain tools to encrypt your files and data. Under the “Professional” versions of Microsoft Windows (Windows 10 Professional), you can right-click on a file or folder, select Properties, then on the General tab, click the Advanced button, then look for “Encrypt content to secure data” under the Compress and encrypt attributes section.
- Avoid phishing — online or over the phone. When in doubt of a suspicious phone call or email, hang up or delete the email. You can usually find contact information on a company’s website. Also, never provide credit card or bank account information to someone on a cold call, no matter what organization or governmental agency they claim to be from. If you think you’ve been victimized by phishing, check out these Geek Squad tips.