A computer crime prevention company has suggested several ways taxpayers can reduce chances of being victims of identity theft or other online fraud.
ThreatMetrix officials said estimates are that more than 1.5 million tax returns, with some $5.2 billion paid in refunds last year, might have been fraudulent. The prediction is that as much as $21 billion in fraudulent tax refunds might be paid out by the IRS during the next five years.
Electronic filing of income taxes can be a problem if a thief has a name, Social Security number and birth date that can be used in submitting a return.
ThreatMetrix estimated some 2.3 million individual tax returns, or 80 percent of all filings, will be submitted online this year by Wisconsin residents, a record amount.
Wisconsin Department of Revenue officials said about 80 percent of state income tax returns for 2011, filed in 2012, were sent electronically. Officials expect 3 million returns to be filed this year, with more than 80 percent being filed online.
— Use a tax preparer or online service with bank-level security such as two-factor authentication and anti-malware protection.
— Make sure the website is secure by looking for the letter “s” in the web address after the “http” or finding a padlock symbol, typically to the left.
— Be wary of suspicious emails and pop-ups. They usually ask for personal and financial details, but banks, preparers and the IRS do not ask for such information online.
— Vary your passwords among websites. A person who obtains the one password that you use for all sites has access to all your information.
— Keep anti-virus and malware detection programs up to date; run scans often.
One security concern for taxpayers filing online was a problem with Java, a widely used computer language, said ThreatMetrix officials. Some professionals believed hackers discovered a coding problem that allows for fraudulent activity.
Java’s owner, Oracle, on Friday said there were issues with Java in browsers but not with mobile and desktop apps.
Oracle released a new version of Java on Jan. 13 to help correct the problems. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and some antivirus companies continued to recommend Java be disabled because of security problems, experts said.