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Experts Offers Advice for Protecting Privacy and Security When Filing Taxes

April is here which means tax filing is upon us. While taxes can be stressful, there is also a concern about the information you share and the impact on your privacy.

Virginia Tech information privacy and cybersecurity experts and co-founders of Voices of Privacy, France Bélanger and Donna Wertalik, explain more about privacy when it comes to filing your taxes.

Privacy and security challenges

“A major privacy concern is tax scams,” says Bélanger. “The goal is to steal your sensitive information, like your Social Security number, name, address, and employer details.” Using this information, cyber criminals can file a false return in your name with the goal of receiving refunds to their own accounts.

Sign of scams can include:

  • Receiving requests from the IRS via text, phone, email, and even sometimes physical letters. The IRS will not text you or call you for information.
  • Receiving W-2 forms from unknown employers.
  • Receiving unexpected notices by text and email.

“A key point to remember and understand is that electronic filing is more secure than mailing a tax return,” says Wertalik. “That’s because they are encrypted, meaning it is not possible to read the information as it is being transmitted from your personal device to the tax authorities.”

Tips for managing privacy and security when filing taxes

  1. Request a Personal Identification Number (PIN) from the IRS. No one can file a return with your SSN without it.
  2. Never share your PIN or password to anyone, except the person or tool that helps you with filing your taxes.
  3. File your taxes early to avoid any scams or invasion of privacy. If you are filing before scammers, they won’t get through.
  4. Remember that revenue agencies will never reach out asking for private information via call, text, or email.
  5. If asked extra information by the tool you use to file taxes, do not share more information than necessary with that software.
  6. Watch for signs of fraud like being unable to e-file tax returns because of a duplicate Social Security number, receiving an IRS notice that an online account has been created by your name, or, receiving an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
  7. Save your tax files in secure locations. Do not store those files in the cloud.
  8. Shred any documents no longer needed.
  9. When in doubt, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to

“It is easy to look past your data privacy and security, especially when it comes to dealing with an already irritating task, taxes,” says Wertalik. “By following these tips and remembering the importance of data privacy, you will be able to keep your private information safe and protected.”

France Bélanger holds the titles of University Distinguished Professor, R. B. Pamplin Professor, and Tom & Daisy Byrd Senior Faculty Fellow in the Accounting and Information Systems Department within the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech

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