The majority of taxpayers will prioritize protecting their personal information this tax season, yet some safeguards go underused, according to Experian.
Taxpayers are filing online increasingly and are taking steps to secure the digital information they submit to the IRS. Survey results show that 81 percent of U.S. tax filers submitted their taxes online last year, up from 73 percent in 2011. Most individuals who prepared and filed their own taxes online used secure networks and computers with up-to-date antivirus protection (91 percent).
This year, tax filers who have their documents prepared by a tax preparer are slightly more concerned about the security of their personal financial information, up 6 percent from last year. Yet, 16 percent of those polled are unfamiliar with the concept of tax-related identity theft. Additionally, 50 percent are not familiar with the IRS-issued PIN available to eligible tax filers to prevent the misuse of a Social Security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns.
Other findings include:
- Fifty-five percent of those polled are concerned about becoming a victim of tax-related identity theft
- For those who have taxes prepared by a tax preparer, there has been a 6 percent increase in concern that personal data may get lost by their tax preparer (since 2014)
- Of the 46 percent surveyed who said they file their own taxes online, ninety-one percent reported using a personal computer or tablet, up 2 percent since 2014
- Fourteen percent scan and save their tax documents electronically, up 8 percent since 2011
- Thirty-nine percent still store physical copies in an unsecure place
- Of the 10 percent surveyed who said they file their own taxes by mail, 61 percent do not use certified mail.
Tax filers should keep the following actions in mind when submitting taxes this year.
- Research any paid preparer or tax-preparation software. While plenty of free help can be found online, scammers also are out there setting up fake websites and software downloads solely designed to bilk people out of their personal information during tax time.
- File online using a computer that is protected with up-to-date antivirus and antimalware software, a firewall and password.
- Keep important tax documents in a locked, secure location.
- Ask potential tax preparers to explain how they protect their customers’ information.
- Enroll in identity protection and take action if alerts indicate potentially fraudulent activity.
- Respond to any email, text message or phone call from someone who says they’re with the IRS. The IRS says it never contacts taxpayers through those methods.
- Let letters linger in your mailbox. During January, important tax documents will arrive via the mail. Thieves know this and have been known to pluck data-rich forms from victims’ mailboxes during tax season.
- File taxes over public Wi-Fi networks. Stick with a secure network connection for all online activity.