- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

This morning’s e-mail brings an interesting item from the folks at Zone Labs: The notion that online tax filers may be open to fraud attacks by those “phishing” for information, or hoping to pilfer that info by dropping in on your Internet browser or connection. They write:

This year, lucky tax procrastinators were granted an extra two days to file, thanks to an interfering weekend. But hackers also received an extension…and are certain to be out roaming the Internet in force over the next several days as an expected record number of returns are filed online.

E-filing is fast, convenient, can accelerate any refunds, and even saves a 37 cent stamp. But the risks are greater than ever before. Cyberattackers used to use viruses to create headlines and gain notoriety. Nowadays, they play their malicious online games for profit — by stealing and selling personal information.”

The firm then offers some security tips:

10 Steps to Filing Your Taxes Online…Safely and Securely

By the experts at Zone Labs, makers of the popular ZoneAlarm Internet

Security Suite

1. Update your security software before beginning your tax preparation. Verify that you have at basic protection: a firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, privacy settings and anti-phishing features.

2. Update your Window’s operating system and install the latest security patches.

3. Using wireless at home? Make sure your wireless router’s security is enabled (IE WEP or WPA). Never do your taxes at a public wireless hotspot.

4. Run antivirus and anti-spyware scans immediately before you begin to ensure a spyware-free PC. (For a free online scan, visit here.)

5. If you are using an online tax service, read the posted security/privacy policy. To ensure the transaction is encrypted, verify that a little yellow closed-lock icon appears in the bottom right corner of your browser, and that the URL begins with “https” (as opposed to “http”)

6. If you use an accountant or a brick-and-mortar tax preparation service, inquire about their security practices and ask if they have a standard set of policies and processes to protect your data.

7. Protect all passwords used to access tax filing accounts. Do not tape them to your computer or write them down nearby. Use a combination of numbers, letters and characters, and avoid common passwords such as your pet’s name or your place of birth.

8. Back-up your tax filing to a CD or portable USB drive, and then delete all associated files off your hard drive. If your PC is compromised in the future, your tax information, Social Security Number and other sensitive data will not be revealed. Shred any documents you may have printed — do not throw them in the trash.

9. Beware of fraudulent e-mails (called “phishing”). Never click on a link in an e-mail or open an attachment. Common scams include claims of outlandish refunds, suspicious tax filing services, or a warning that your tax filing was rejected or your IRS account was hacked. If in doubt, visit irs.gov directly or call them at 1-800-829-1040.

10. If your computer is extremely sluggish or is “acting up” even after you run a scan, consider filing the old-fashioned way: by snail mail.

For tips from the IRS on phishing and online scams, visit here.

For the top Tax Scams, visit here.

My personal favorite is number 10: if you suspect a problem, switch to paper filing. The points they make are very good ones to remember in terms of security, and not just a tax time.

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