The deadline for filing income tax returns in the U.S. is April 15. As that date approaches tax payers are anxiously searching references and online tax preparation services. Caution is advised because fraudsters and phishers thrive during this time of year.
The best authority for tax questions is the official IRS website, located at irs.gov. Just as Microsoft does not contact an individual directly about security updates, neither will the IRS use e-mail to communicate any personal information. (Telephone 1-800-829-1040 to determine if an IRS contact is legitimate.)
The same goes for unsolicited e-mails from a supposed tax-preparation company. Always expect that such e-mails are phishing attempts. To better understand phishing attempts, see How to recognize phishing e-mails or links.
Not everyone is in a position to afford the latest computer operating system. In the event you are still using Window XP, you will want to ensure that your computer is as secure as possible prior to using an online tax preparation service. A computer infected with a backdoor trojan or keylogger is an invitation to identity theft. To determine if your computer is infected, run a full-system scan with an up-to-date antivirus product such as Microsoft Security Essentials, the Windows Live OneCare safety scanner or ESET Online Scanner.
If you are filing your taxes online, it is important that you use as secure a browser as possible. I recommend either Internet Explorer 8 or Mozilla Firefox 3.6. Also make sure that the Web address begins with https.
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