It’s tax time and the deadlines are fast approaching. If you’re in Canada, the due date for your taxes this year is April 30th, while in the US, May 17th is the date to keep in mind.
Tax season used to mean mountains of paperwork, but recently more and more people have been taking advantage of online software to file their taxes. While filing your taxes online can definitely save you a lot of time, it also opens the door to digital threats that you may have not even been aware of!
With your safety in mind, we’ve put together a cybersecurity checklist to help keep you and your information secure this tax season!
First, What To Look Out For
With all the W2s and T4s flying around, there’s a trove of personal data that cyber criminals can use to steal your identity and financial information.
1. Tax Fraud
Did you know, according to the Federal Trade Commission, one of the most common types of identity theft is tax-related fraud? This is when someone uses your social security number (or SIN) and other personal information to file an income tax return. You might not know it happened until:
- You get a letter informing you of a suspicious tax return with your SSN or SIN
- You try to file your return online but get a notice saying a return has already being filed with your SSN or SIN
2. Phishing Scams
If someone contacts you out of the blue claiming to be the IRS or CRA – be sure to stop and think before you give any personal information. Fraudsters will demand immediate payment to create a sense of urgency – they know people are more likely to make irrational choices under pressure. These types of scams typically use the same tricks:
- Impersonation: They will often pose as members of the IRS, CRA or other tax agencies, and inform you that there’s some sort of error with your tax return.
- Robot Scam Calls: These calls tend to ramp up noticeably during tax season – a robotic voice informing you that your social security card has been compromised and the police are involved. These calls will urge you to contact a number, where a scammer will then persuade you to transfer funds into their accounts.
- Fraudulent Letters: Recently, scammers have upped their game and started sending official-looking mail to potential victims. Many of these letters claim to be from the Bureau of Tax Enforcement (which doesn’t even exist), and while they may look legitimate, they are often missing a lot of key details that are found on the real deal.
While some of these scams are easy to spot, sometimes they manage to slip by. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re trying to figure out whether something is legitimate or a scam.
- If these agencies want to reach you, they would do so through mail, or through your verified tax account – they won’t contact you through phone or email (however it’s best to exercise caution with snail-mail too).
- Official letters will always have a seal and a letter or notice number – plus you can always call the tax agency in question to verify (just make sure you’re calling a valid number).
- They will never call to set up a meeting with you in public to take payment or demand immediate payment by e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards or gift cards.
- If they use aggressive language or threaten you with arrest it is definitely a scam.
- One reader also mentioned to watch if they use your name. If they don’t ever address you by your name, you can assume it’s a scam.
Even if you get an email that has the correct logo and name make sure the email address looks correct and watch for spelling and grammar errors! You can always call the correct agency to verify any communication you receive.
3. Fake Software
Not only are scammers impersonating federal agencies they also pretend to be tax software, like TurboTax or UFile. You might receive an email from this software informing you that you need to reset your password due to suspicious activity on your account. You’re taken to a fake website where you update your information and unknowingly give cyber criminals access to all your personal data.
Next steps to take before you file your taxes
Check out what tips our in-house tax experts shared with us for how to stay safe and secure this tax season!
Make sure the computer you’re using is clean
If your computer is infected your information is compromised before you even submit it. Use a trusted antivirus to protect what matters most and run FixMeStick for an added layer of security and peace-of-mind.
Our accounting team uses McAfee antivirus because they want a name they can trust to get the identity and privacy protection they need. Although free software may seem good enough, it doesn’t provide nearly the same level of protection and customer support as paid antiviruses.
Need extra protection for your computer? Get more than 60% off your McAfee purchase here!
You want your computer to be up-to-date too
We know updating your operating system can be a pain but this is the only way to ensure it’s optimized against vulnerabilities. Your OS needs to be running its best to detect and avoid malware.
Tax tips for when you file
The device you’re going to be using is secure, now it’s time to actually file your return safely, securely, and efficiently.
Use a secure connection
If you can avoid it, try not to file your taxes on a public Wi-Fi network. Public Wi-Fi typically doesn’t provide you with a secure connection, and allows others to see your online activity.
Also double check that any sites you’re using have Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Check to make sure the URLs have https:// (not just http), and a lock icon at the front of the URL address.
Use a strong, unique password
Whether you’re creating a new account this year or using an account from previous years, it’s best to choose a password that prioritizes your security.
While it may be tempting to use easy, memorable passwords like your dog’s name or your SIN, it only makes it easier for cyber criminals to gain access. With online breaches increasing year after year, it’s crucial that you use unique, complex passwords for every account.
Better yet, use 2 Factor Authentication (2FA) to ensure only you have access to your accounts.
Not sure if your computer is secure? Use the StartMeStick!
When filing taxes it is important to be confident your computer is clean. If you want an added layer of security and privacy, then you can use the StartMeStick (as long as your tax software can be accessed via an online browser). The StartMeStick is a secure and private computer on a stick that doesn’t save anything. That way you can be confident that your taxes are safe and secure, with no extra personal information for someone else to get their hands on.
Have any questions or extra tips about how to safely file your taxes? Let us know in the comments below!