Top 5 Online 2011 Tax Scams

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Protect Yourself Tips

With so many scams going around, it's difficult to know how to keep yourself safe online. However, Horne identifies six steps that you can take to thwart the bad guys:

1. Before you do your taxes, make sure that your antivirus software is up-to-date. That way, your program will be on the lookout for the latest known threats.

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
2. Be careful about which browser you use when dealing with tax-related information online. Make sure that you are using the most recent version of your browser so that you have the latest security patches. Using Mozilla's Firefox running the popular add-on NoScript to defend against drive-by downloads is a good idea. And if you are among the 3 percent of online Americans still using Internet Explorer 6, dump it for the latest version of IE available for your operating system--or use a different popular browser such as Chrome or Firefox.

3. Never use a search engine to look for government documents. Instead, go directly to sites such as IRS.gov, USA.gov, or individual state government sites ending in .gov, and search for forms there.

4. Never open or download attachments included with messages claiming to be from the IRS. The wisest course may be to refrain from opening any unsolicited tax-related e-mail message, as some poisoned messages use HTML to exploit weaknesses in your browser and initiate a drive-by download.

5. Never do your taxes over an unencrypted wireless connection such as free Wi-Fi at Starbucks. At home, even if you use the latest wireless security encryption standards such as WPA2 there, you are better off breaking out the LAN cable and using a wired connection when dealing with sensitive financial information.

6. Once you're finished filing your taxes for this year, make sure that you move all of your tax-related files for safe keeping to a USB key, an external hard drive, or some other form of removable storage. Then wipe all tax files off your computer's hard drive. Tax-related malware may lurk online long after tax season is over, according to Horne. If you happen to get infected, and you've stored your tax forms in a special folder on your PC, it won't take much for a scammer to steal your identity.

IRS Advice

The IRS also has a lot of helpful information to help keep you safe from phishing and other e-mail scams. The IRS emphasizes that it never asks taxpayers for their passwords, PINs, or other secret data relating to bank accounts and credit cards. Furthermore, never initiates taxpayer communication through e-mail. If you receive a dubious e-mail message claiming to be from the IRS, you can report it by forwarding the message without altering it to phishing@irs.gov. For more online tax security tips, check out the IRS's page on how to protect your personal information.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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