Caution: Your Social Security Number Could Be Available Online via Indexed Tax Documents
Nowadays just about everything can be found online, which could unfortunately include your tax documents revealing personal information such as your social security numbers. As we come to the close of another tax season, cybercrooks could be on the hunt for unprotected tax documents freshly posted online.
Do you ever fear that too much of your personal information is online or can be accessed by an online cybercrook? Just the other day, a researcher at ZDnet uncovered over 50 tax documents available online which contained social security numbers, credit card information, tax IDs, names and phone numbers.
The tax documents discovered online are ones that will be or were already submitted to the IRS for filing of someone's taxes. The specific reasons for them being placed over the Internet are unforeseen. It may be cases were individuals chose to store their tax return documents online in an insecure fashion.
With an official tax document posted online, it could easily lead to identity theft if it ends up in the wrong hands, which is inevitable. The same can be said about any type of personal identifiable information posted over the Internet.
Hackers have always been in the news for attacking databases that harbor sensitive information such as in the case of the recent Epsilon security breach which relinquished email addresses of consumers. When it comes to documents and databases that contain multiple forms of personal information, the risk becomes exponentially greater.
Consider this, a family of three individuals files their taxes via an online service and somehow those documents become unknowingly available over the Internet. Someone then stumbles across the tax documents belonging to the family of three giving the perpetrator unadulterated access to personal information not only belonging to two adults, but information belonging to a child who's credit history has yet to be established. Just think of the endless possibilities that a cybercriminal could do with such information. Not only would an innocent child's credit and identity be in jeopardy, but the damage may not be discovered until several years later after it is too late.
Tax documents have no business being placed online. Tax documents that have been placed online can be searched by anyone who knows how to seek them out using clever search engine techniques.
How can computer users prevent tax documents or other personal data from appearing online?
It is not rocket science on how computer users can prevent personal data from appearing online. It is already bad enough that hackers are steadily finding new ways to attack sites that have personal data securely stored. Do not add to the flame by posting personal identifiable data over the Internet including something as simple as a phone number or full name. Never share personal information over a social network no matter how 'safe' you may think it is. Once it is posted online, it never goes away even if you attempt to delete it. Remember, once something is posted on the Internet, it can be indexed by a search engine such as Google in a matter of seconds making it virtually impossible to remove.
If you must store personal information online, by all means, utilize authentication that requires you to login using a secure site and password. In the rare event that you discover your information indexed on a search engine, remove the files immediately if possible and contact the search engine to have the cached/indexed copies removed as well.
In any case, if you suspect you have become the victim of identity theft, sign up for credit monitoring services and contact your local FBI branch to report your situation.