Tens of millions of Americans will file their federal income tax returns online this year. If you're among them, the experts who put together Consumer Reports' Guide to online security have these suggestions:
- Perform a clean sweep
Use an anti-malware software product to scan for and eliminate any keylogger or other security loophole on the computer you'll be using to prepare your taxes. Browse the Consumer Reports Security software suite Ratings to find the best anti-malware tool for your needs. (What's more, you may find the right security software tool is free to use.)
- Update your software
Make sure you're using the latest versions of any tax software, such as Intuit's TurboTax or H&R Block's TaxCut. But also check that you have installed the latest versions of Web browser software—especially if you plan to use an online income tax preparation site. Also update utility software such as Adobe Flash and digital media players, which are frequently called on to display information on websites such as IRS.gov. These pieces of utility software can be exploited by hackers to gain unauthorized access to your PC—and sensitive personal tax info, such as your Social Security number.
- Secure your home computer set-up
Use strong passwords on both your home computer and your wired (or wireless) Internet router.
- Have a backup ready
An external hard drive or a USB memory stick is a handy place to store your sensitive tax data as you work on your return. Keeping it in a safe place when you're not working on your electronic return minimizes the chance it can be stolen by online hackers—or lost in a hard drive crash.
- Watch your step online
Know where to go to on the Web for tax information. For example, the official Internal Revenue Service website is www.IRS.gov, not www.IRS.com.
See Consumer Reports Money section for more tax information and tips such as:
- How to audit-proof your 2011 tax return
- 8 ways to avoid tax-time headaches
- 5 tips to follow before starting your taxes online
- How to track down the best tax preparer
- 8 ways to make tax season more tolerable
- Don't be tempted by tax refund anticipation loans or checks
- The dos and don'ts of tax deductions