10 Security Tips for E-Filing Tax Returns

With just five days left before federal tax returns are due, security company Check Point Thursday offered up 10 taxpayer tips for protecting confidential information from identity theft.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, electronic filing from home computers is up more than 8 percent this year over last year, with about 16.1 million taxpayers having already e-filed as of the end of March.

"It's amazing how many e-filers take pains to keep their jewelry in a safe at home and their financial paperwork in a locked desk but don't take minimal precautions on their home computer," Laura Yecies, general manager of Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.'s ZoneAlarm consumer group, said in a statement.

Check Point ZoneAlarm -- noted for its free ZoneAlarm personal firewall -- posted the 10 tips on its Web site:

- Update security software before beginning tax return preparation.

- Update the computer's operating system with the latest security patches.

- Enable a home network's wireless router's security -- WEP or WPA -- before prepping a return online or filing electronically, and never work on a return at a public wireless hot spot.

- Run antivirus and antispyware scans before you begin working on a return to ensure a spyware-free system.

- Read the security and privacy policies of the online tax service you're using. Verify that its site uses SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] encryption -- the browser will show a padlock icon -- and that the URL begins with "https," not just "http."

- Ask your accountant or brick-and-mortar preparation service for details about their security practices.

- Secure the passwords used to access tax filing accounts or online preparation services. Use strong passwords that combine numbers, letters and other characters.

- Back up the return to external media and then delete all associated files from the local hard drive. If the PC is compromised in the future, tax information, Social Security number(s) and other sensitive data will not be revealed. Shred any printed documents.

- Beware of tax-related phishing messages. Common scams include refund claims, suspicious tax filing services or a "warning" that the return was rejected by the IRS.

- As a last resort, consider filing the return the old-fashioned way. Go to the post office and mail it.

The IRS also maintains a collection of tax tips on its Web site. The April 17 deadline for filing federal returns this year is two days later than usual, because April 15 falls on a Sunday and the following day is a District of Columbia holiday, Emancipation Day.

This story, "10 Security Tips for E-Filing Tax Returns" was originally published by Computerworld.

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