Smartphone Safety and Tax Apps

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mobile apps

Filing your taxes? There’s an app for that. Actually, there are a few apps for that. These days time is a precious commodity and the ability to file your taxes through your smartphone seems like a dream come true. You are now able to snap a picture of your W-2 with your smartphone, have the information automatically entered and then submitted to the federal government. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Convenience though, often goes hand in hand with a lower level of security and these smartphone apps are no exception. In order to understand the risks of using these apps one must look at just what is available, what the risks of usage are and how to protect oneself.

What Is Available:

  • Refund tracking: The IRS has released an app which allows users to track their tax returns. Those who file electronically can check the status of their refund  just 72 hours after filing. Registering for this service will also put you on a mailing list to receive helpful tips from the IRS throughout the year via email.
  • Tax return submission: Intuit released an app called SnapTax, which now allows iPhone and Android users to take a picture of their W-2, have the information automatically uploaded and then submit the information to the federal government. While this is only available to Californians currently, the app will surely be further developed to include users from other states in the near future.

The Risks:

  • Tax documents carry an incredible amount of personal information which identity thieves can use to open up credit cards, visit a hospital or even be arrested using someone else’s information. Having this personal information on a mobile device creates an additional risk for users. Smartphones can be easily lost or stolen and having a Social Security number stored makes that loss even more dangerous. Web enabled mobile devices carry the same risks as a PC or laptop and like any other computer, they can be infected with malware and hacked for user information. Users must also be sure that the app they are using is safe. Remember that anyone can create an app and provide it to the general public, and such apps may just be schemes to collect personal information.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Password-protect your phone: The simplest step you can take to prevent your information from being accessed. Make sure it is a strong password for your protection.
  • Install security software: There are a number of companies which offer antivirus, malware and security software designed exclusively for smartphones.  Make sure to download software updates.
  • Do not jailbreak or use a “jailbroken” phone: A “jailbroken” phone is a phone that has gone through a process which opens its operating system to apps which would otherwise not be compatible with the operating system. However, once “jailbroken,” such phones are vulnerable to all forms of malware, spyware, and viruses that users might inadvertently download.
  • When installing an app, take the time to read the “small print”: Determine what information is being relayed to the creator of the app and why is it necessary.
  • Install a “phone finder” app: These apps are designed to help you find your phone if it becomes lost or stolen.
  • Enroll in a backup/wiping program: You can enroll in a program that will back up the information on your smartphone to your home computer. Many of these services are also able to “wipe” your phone if it is lost or stolen so that no data remains on the device itself. These services are available through your smartphone’s manufacturer or through your wireless provider.

Technology can be a beautiful thing, especially when it lets you file your taxes while lounging by the pool, but it can also be dangerous. Avoid extra hassles this tax season by following these safety tips to reduce your risk of identity theft when using smartphone apps to file taxes.

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.