Tax Help Tips
Sometimes we all need a bit of good advice, which is why I appreciate realadvicegal.com for featuring our post on their page. If you’re trying to save some money around tax season, consider reading their article when you’re done on how to live on a budget (for a family of 6).
How To Protect Yourself While Doing Your Taxes This Year
Once again, the time has come. For many, it is a time of returns and rejoicing; for others, it is a time to pay the piper. Whichever camp you fall into, you’re certain to be a part of one of life’s inevitabilities: taxes. There’s no escape, so you may as well hunker down and get your paperwork in order.
But, as with most things, many of us have begun filing our taxes online rather than visiting an office. Cheap (at times, free tax filing ) and convenient, all you’ll need are a few simple forms to provide information for TurboTax or whoever you might be planning to use.
Deciding to file taxes online does come with some inherent risks. Any time you use the internet, there’s a possibility you may fall victim to identity theft from hackers, scammers or other types of criminal good-for-nothings who inhabit the world. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to minimize these risks and protect your finances.
Tax Help Tips for Filing Taxes online
Security Software for Online Tax Filing
Before you get seriously into filing, your internet ready device should really have a few different kinds of security software installed. The most common and useful types are:
A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A Password Manager
A few of these you’re probably already familiar with, while others may seem new. We’ll start with what you should do to secure your connection.
Get yourself a good VPN whenever you’re dealing with sensitive financial information, especially if you’re connecting to unsecured WiFi. You can hide your IP address and avoid having data being stolen or intercepted because you’ll be connecting to a secure, remote server. A VPN is a service you should consider keeping for any sensitive transactions.
Install a firewall on your devices, or connect using secured WiFi, so you can prevent unwanted traffic from intruding on your activities. A firewall allows you to screen for hackers trying to sniff out open ports, which would allow them access to your devices if not properly closed.
Malware has seriously evolved with time, so you may need two different types of anti-malware software to properly handle today’s viruses. For prevention, I like to use free programs such as Avast or Panda (they have paid options available, which can also include a firewall).
For the removal of trickier types of malware, you should have something such as Malwarebytes Anti-malware. Unless you’re paying for the premium version, it doesn’t so much screen for viruses, but it is absolutely the best at removing them if you do wind up with one.
It may also be wise to use a password manager. We’ll discuss passwords in a moment, but using a service such as LastPass can help avoid the difficulty of remembering different passwords and minimize the risk of a security breach by having you use a password that is different from the one used for your tax website.
Tax Help Tip: Login Details
Filing taxes online means you’ll need to login to a website or app. Much like other services you’re probably used to by now, that means you’ll need to have a username and password. This is one area many people make mistakes, because their details are very easy to guess.
Make sure your username isn’t the same as your email address unless the website requires as much. Your password should be at a minimum eight characters long, with a mixture of non-words including numbers, symbols, uppercase and lowercase letters. It should also be unique to your tax service so as not to risk losing access to multiple accounts in the result of a breach.
Your security questions (which many websites now require) are also vital. Using simple questions such as your mother’s birthdate or the high school you graduated from are unwise, as some of these details may be publicly available for anyone to search. Stick with questions only you or a very select group of people would know.
Beware of Scams
Tax season also means there will be plenty of fakes looking to reach into your pockets or returns to fleece you out of a few bucks. In the worst case, you might run into full on identity theft if you aren’t careful.
Phishing is a particularly sneaky scam that has become relatively popular, where the attacker creates a fake website that strongly resembles a known and trusted website, such as TurboTax. However, on checking the web address, you’ll find it is neither the official website nor an affiliate website.
When in doubt, visit a website directly by entering the address into your browser. Or, if available, use their official app you can download from one of the various stores (Windows Store, Google Play, App Store, etc.).
Another, more forceful scam, is actually a type of malware. Scareware is a tricky type of malware that is designed to fool its victims into believing they need to spend money or give out sensitive personal information to avoid some kind of negative outcome.
For instance, you might acquire malware that suggests you are being audited and are required to provide credit card information, send a money order or provide bank account information of some kind. They may even request your Social Security number.
But the IRS doesn’t do this; they send official letters. If something like this pops up in an email or on your computer, it’s time to break out the aforementioned Malwarebytes to get rid of it. Whatever you do, never submit sensitive information to an unverified source.
Go In Person
As tedious as it can be, sometimes it may be preferable to actually go down to an office and do your taxes in person with a professional. This can present certain risks as well, but most well-known tax offices are perfectly safe to visit. Avoid shady looking businesses offering cheap tax advice, as you may end up a bit short on your return.
My tax help tip is be sure not to leave anything with the tax office you wouldn’t leave in any other public place. If you’re feeling uneasy, simply leave or request a different person to help with your taxes. If they request information you’re not comfortable giving, ask that they explain why you must surrender that information.
Be Cautious, Not Paranoid
Whatever the case may be, the world is decidedly not out to get you. There are definitely criminals looking to profit at the expense of others, but the world certainly doesn’t have a mugger behind every corner. Not even on the internet.
Even so, identity theft is no fun. By maximizing your security, you minimize your risks and make yourself a less promising target for hackers. After all, criminals are trying to avoid hard work, and if stealing your info is too much trouble, they’re likely to look for easier victims.
Thanks to Cassie of Secure Thoughts for sharing with us these tax help tips.