If you’re using online tax-prep software to file your returns, I want you to be sure you don’t do it over a public WiFi connection. Coffee shops and libraries are considerations for many as a place to file your tax return, but you need to be aware of the security dangers that exist when doing so.
It’s very easy for crooks to set up what looks like a hotspot that has a name similar to the WiFi of the establishment you are at. But in reality, your signal is being intercepted and those same criminals gather your usernames and passwords and other sensitive information. (This can even happen when you see that image of a lock in the lower right-hand portion of your screen that you think means it’s a secure connection.) Even if you do log on to the legitimate WiFi signal of your public library, school, or coffee shop, there are still major potential issues with those networks being unsecured. An unsecured network gives hackers and identity thieves easy access to lots of your personal information.
In addition, using a public computer lends itself to even more pitfalls. A potential identity thief might have installed a virus or monitoring software that is poised to steal your information.
The takeaway: Don’t use public WiFi or a public computer to do your taxes. If you were considering going to your public library or using a computer at the school you work at or attend – don’t do it. If you were considering taking your laptop to your local coffee shop and e-filing your taxes – don’t do it. The safety issues are too great and the personal information involved in filing your taxes is too important. File your taxes on a personal computer via a personal and secure WiFi connection via one of the Free File options. If you don’t have home internet or a personal computer, ask a friend or family member if you could use their computer and home WiFi in order to file your taxes. It just isn’t worth the risk of using public computers and WiFi connections.
In addition, there’s another tax-related scam I need to mention to you. Beware of any e-mail contact that pretends to be from the IRS. The IRS never communicates by e-mail. Do not respond in any way whatsoever to e-mails purporting to be from the IRS.
Finally, if somebody calls you claiming they represent the IRS, you need to give some pushback. Tell them that you need to hang up and call the main number at IRS.gov to see if they’re legitimately trying to reach you. At that point, you’ll probably hear Mr. Buzz — the dial tone — on the other end of the line as that crook knows they can’t scam you!