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The Hazards of Filing Taxes Online

For the past few weeks, I’ve spent every free minute and quite a few not-so-free minutes – time that I I will never get back! — doing taxes. I have complicated taxes, But after trying everything else to get out of it, I have found they only get done correctly and on time if I do them myself.

I lean heavily on online tools to accomplish this dangerously boring and horrific feat. I’d be lost without Mint.com, which keeps track of my tax deductible expenses and TurboTax.com, which asks me one dreary (but simple enough) question after another until I get to the end. And then it does all the math and sends in all the forms for me.

According to McAfee, I’m not the only one using online tools to get this hateful task done. Every year, more consumers file taxes online (81% did in 2012).

I think this – the great online tools; not the taxes – is great. It’s easier, faster, and saves trees. But — ever the killjoy when it comes to the ease of Internet use — McAfee points out that there are risks. “During 2012, the IRS discovered $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft, compared with $14 billion in 2011,” the company told me in an email.

As with anything, knowing what these risks are is the best way of avoiding them. And since I’m super busy trying to make this looming April 15 tax deadline, I am grateful to Michelle Dennedy, McAfee’s VP and chief privacy officer for sharing some tips on staying safe in tax season.

Here they are:

  • Protect your data. This means that all sensitive documents, including anything that includes tax or investment records, credit, debit or bank account numbers, or a Social Security number, must be secured from the moment they arrive in your mailbox.
  • Shred non-essential paperwork. Check with your accountant to determine what you need and what you don’t. Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy unneeded documents.
  • Go paperless. Whenever possible, opt to receive electronic statements in your inbox. The less paper in your life, the better.
  • File early. The earlier you file, the more quickly you will thwart any criminal’s attempt to file on your behalf and collect your refund.
  • Use a clean PC. Make sure you are not using a computer that is infected or does not have any security software. You should also make sure that the computer’s operating system and browser are updated and that you use up-to-date, comprehensive security software like McAfee All Access that protects all your devices.