As the saying goes, only two things in life are certain – death and taxes.
I’m sure Benjamin Franklin would agree that submitting a tax return will never top the list of enjoyable ways to spend your free time.
Personally, it ranks right down my menial task-list alongside trips to the dentist, cleaning behind the fridge, and de-crumbing my keyboard.
Thankfully, I’ve done away with ‘Ye Olde’ Tax Pack and have embraced the ATO e-tax service, figuring that the faster you complete a dull task, the sooner you can pop a celebratory champagne.
While the e-tax service is private and safe, any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Securing your computer, being aware of the hoaxes, and practising safe online behaviour are ways you can take the headache out of tax time.
Perform a clean sweep
Unwanted computer guests such as key-loggers patiently wait for you to type private information and then forward the data to an unauthorised third party.
Use an anti-spyware software product to scan for and eliminate any malicious software that might be running on your computer. While you’re at it, ensure your virus definitions are up to date, your firewall is on, and your automatic updates have all run.
Keep your private information… well… private!
When going through your banking information, avoid using public computers or internet cafes where snooping eyes may be able to retrieve your details from the PC after you have finished using it.
Regardless of where you access your online banking remember to always log out when you’re finished, clearing the browser history for good measure.
While we’re on the topic of privacy, your Facebook page is not the place for your tax file number, home address, or date of birth. Regularly toggle your privacy settings on social networking sites to keep security settings up to date and post something more interesting than your financial information.
Access all areas
A USB memory stick is a handy place to store your banking data while you work on your tax return, so long as you’re careful about security. Keeping important data offline in a safe place when you’re not using it minimizes the chance it can be stolen by online criminal hackers or lost in a hard drive crash.
When you’re ready to install the e-tax application for the end of this tax year, you’ll need elevate your standard computer privileges to ‘administrator.’
If the application is already installed then your standard Windows user privileges will allow access.
Additionally, you’ll need direct internet access that doesn’t connect through a proxy server. For the Mac and Linux crew, the ATO does not yet support these operating systems. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from filling out a tax return this year!
Sniff out fishy business
Be wary of unsolicited or hoax emails that claim to come from the ATO.
Each year around tax season there is an increase in phishing emails designed to sneakily capture your personal information.
Common hoax emails include additional requests for information before returns can be released, social networking “surveys”, and falsified court documents.
Never open emails or attachments from unknown sources and remember that in the unlucky event you have a tax liability, the ATO will send you an account in the post, never via email.
The ATO website has more information on common email scams and tips to avoid falling victim to a tax season scam.
Watch your step
Know where to go to on the web for banking and tax sites. Each year bogus sites pop up that almost look legitimate but are designed to trick you.
Never click through on hyperlinks in emails that you don’t trust. Instead, manually type the website URL in the address bar of your internet browser. Be suspicious of any address that doesn’t contain the official ato.gov.au domain.
Until next year
So there you have it. With tax out of the way for another year, you can focus on the more important things in life. Right… where’s that champagne?
More tips on online safety for the end of the Financial Year
If you’d like to read more advice on staying safe online as we approach the end of the Financial Year, check out our latest Online Safety Series fact sheet.
National Cyber Security Awareness Week
Don’t forget National Cyber Security Awareness Week is coming up on June 12th 2012. This Government initiative helps Australians understand cyber security risks as well as educating home and small business users on the simple steps they can take to protect their personal and financial information online.