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8 ways to protect personal data from online threats

Posted on May 24, 2017

There has been a lot of buzz the past several years about combatting identity theft, and for good reason. Identity thieves (those who commit financial fraud with stolen information), successfully attacked a record 15.4 million Americans last year. That’s up 16 percent from 2015, according to an IRS Identity Fraud Study.

According to CPAs across the country, the best way to combat identity and tax fraud is to create public awareness of the various ways identity thieves commit their crimes. That’s why, for the second year in a row, the IRS has created a public awareness campaign called “Taxes. Security. Together.”

Teipen Selanders Poynter & Ayres wholeheartedly backs the IRS campaign. Here is an overview of IRS and TSPA-recommended steps to help protect your data from thieves:

  1. Security software can protect your computer and your data from numerous threats posed by malicious programs (also known as malware). Most computers come with security software pre-installed. Make sure to turn on that feature and set it for automatic updates.
  2. Add security to all your digital devices, including your laptop, tablet and mobile phone. For an added level of protection, create passwords for your online accounts and access to your computer.
  3. If you keep sensitive financial data on your hard drive such as prior-year tax returns or important records, consider investing in encryption software to safeguard documents with password protection.
  4. Use strong passwords of 10 or more digits that include letters, numbers and special characters. Do not use the same password for all your accounts, particularly financial accounts, and change passwords every few months.
  5. Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. A favorite tactic of cybercriminals is to pose as businesses, credit card companies or even the IRS, asking you to update your account or divulge your Social Security number.
  6. Periodically back up all the data on your computer via your protected cloud storage or a separate disk.
  7. Protect your residential wireless network with strong password protection.
  8. If you use public Wi-Fi (such as in a coffee shop), never post sensitive data. If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure.

The CPAs at TSPA agree that the best time to protect your personal and tax information is before there is a breach of security or a threat. Safeguard your good name and credit by taking appropriate steps now to avoid difficult problems later.