Far more students, both high school and college, are working these days. The cost of living (and learning) is high, and young people who are not fortunate enough to come from financially well-off families (and even those who are) are looking to part-time incomes to bridge cash-shortfall gaps. Along with the earning comes the onerous process of income tax reporting.
This techno-savvy generation is firmly plugged into the Internet. Thus, they think that electronic filing of tax returns is the only way to go. However, like most things these days, it's not quite as simple, straightforward, and safe as it may appear. Identity theft has become rampant. The plain truth is that virtually (so to speak) everything that travels through cyberspace is subject to being appropriated by criminal hands. The recent Epsilon hacking episode shows that even the most thoroughly "protected" databases can be broken into. Thus the need for caution and sober forethought.
Ben Franklin once said the only certainties in life are death and taxes.
As the filing deadline approaches many of you are expecting to e-file, which is why AVG Technologies, a well-known Internet security firm, is telling students that with proper security in place, filing taxes can be safe, fast and easy. If you plan to file your own 1040 online, follow the tips below to help protect and keep your personal data exactly where it should be – between the you and the IRS:
1. Vet websites claiming to be free e-file services – Do your homework before selecting a third-party site for filing your taxes. Read online reviews to find a reliable, trusted site that works best for your needs. Before you log on, double-check the site you've selected is listed on IRS.gov.
2. Evaluate mobile apps on your smartphone – If you plan to file a simple return or track the progress of your return via your mobile device, do you homework just as you would if filing on your personal computer. Ensure the app you select is from a trustworthy source, read the reviews and pay attention to its ratings before downloading. Also remember not just your tax time app can cause harm. Consider all third-party open source libraries, apps and components that may harbor bugs and malicious code on your smartphone to protect your personal information when you file and every day.
3. Use a trusted Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection – While you could file your taxes on your smartphone or laptop from the neighborhood coffee shop, the airport or even a fast food establishment, simply don't. File from home, or the office, where you have a firewall in place and internet security installed on the network.
4. Update your computer's anti-virus software – New online threats are discovered every day. The first line of defense against these attacks is an up-to-date anti-virus program on your computer or smartphone. While getting all your documentation in line, run an update on your system's security software to ensure you're fully protected, or download free protection from trusted sites.
5. Don't believe an email from the IRS – The IRS does not email individual taxpayers. If you get an email from the IRS, do not click on any links. Mark it as spam, and move on. You can go to IRS.gov to report the phishing scam or call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 if you suspect that you have received a fraudulent notice. But rest assured the IRS will not notify you that you're being audited via email.
6. Email over fax – If you're compiling taxes with your tax preparer or family members from multiple locations, think twice before faxing sensitive materials back and forth. Email is far more secure, especially if sent and received via a secure Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection and a computer with up-to-date antivirus software. Also ensure you don't leave those files sitting on your email server to collect virtual dust. Delete and store them securely to protect yourself from future attacks, long after this year's April 18 filing date.
Did you notice that you'll get an extra two days to file this year? The deadline for filing is not April 15, as usual. The April 18 deadline is because Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia, falls this year on Friday, April 15. By law, District of Columbia holidays impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do; therefore, all taxpayers will have three extra days to file this year. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until Oct. 17 to file their 2010 tax returns.
So, good news and bad news. Bad news: You'll have to pay your taxes. Good news: You have two extra days to do it. Have fun. Be safe.
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