The Most Secure Ways to Send Tax Documents to Your Accountant
Resist the Urge to Use Email
In the age of the internet, it's becoming more and more common at tax time for people to enlist the remote help of professionals and accountants. It can be tempting to simply email the necessary information, but that's not the best idea.
You'll want to make sure that your tax documents are delivered to your certified public accountant, enrolled agent, or another tax professional in the most secure and reliable way possible. Tax documents contain highly sensitive information like your name, address, Social Security numbers for you and your dependents, how much money you earn, and where you bank. If that data falls into the wrong hands, you could end up being a victim of identity theft.
Here are some tips for making sure your documents and data arrive at their destination intact and secure.
Make a List
Make a list of all your W-2s, 1099s, and other tax-related documents. This accomplishes two things. First, you'll know exactly what you sent to your accountant. If something gets lost and doesn't arrive at the other end, you can identify what it was. Second, you'll also have the start of a checklist for next year's tax preparation.
Make Backup Copies
If you're transmitting the actual paper copies of your tax documents, copy each one before sending it. That way, you won't permanently lose critical information if the documents get lost. You can photocopy them or scan them to create images or PDF files that can be saved to your computer or flash drive. However you do it, make sure you have a backup copy before sending the original paperwork to your accountant.
Hand Deliver, If Possible
The most secure way of passing along documents is the most time-tested one—hand them directly to the intended recipient. If at all possible, you can put this old-school tactic to work for you by personally delivering your tax documents to your accountant. At the very least, hand them to an assistant, secretary, receptionist, or other office personnel. This eliminates any risk that they'll get lost in transmission or be intercepted by hackers and scammers.
Mailing Your Documents Is a Good Second Option
Mail delivery is pretty secure, and it's probably your second-best option if hand delivery is impossible or imposes a significant inconvenience.
Mailed documents are protected from casual "eavesdropping" thanks to the envelope. Opening someone else's mail is a crime in the U.S., and while that might not deter a determined criminal, at least there are laws on the books to punish offenders.
That said, documents can and sometimes do become lost or damaged in the mail, so it might be a good idea to send those backup copies you made rather than the originals. You might also consider using tracking services or requiring a signature upon delivery.
Faxing Your Documents Works for Simple Documents
Faxing documents to your accountant can be a quick way to deliver them and it's relatively secure. As long as the accountant's phone line isn't tapped, chances are good that your transmission won't be intercepted by identity thieves.
There are a few downsides. The biggest risk is that you get the fax number wrong and send the documents to an unintended recipient. Faxed documents can sometimes be hard to read and the last thing a tax professional wants to do is sit there guessing whether a number is a six or an eight (or take additional time to call you to find out). Faxing works best if you just need to send a few pages. For longer documents, and for documents with information on both sides of the page, you may have to choose another method of delivery.
If You Must Use Email, Use Encryption
Email is convenient and fast, but it also poses some security risks. Unless you take precautions, such as the use of encrypted communication, your emails and attachments are likely vulnerable.
Luckily, there are many encrypted services that security-minded consumers can use. Chip Capelli, an accountant located in Provincetown, Massachusetts, mentions LeapFILE as one such communication method that's a game-changer.
At the very least, place your tax documents inside an encrypted wrapper such as a password-protected DOC, PDF, or ZIP file. "Scan everything to a PDF and then password protect it," Capelli advises.
Never send information you want to keep private, such as your Social Security number, as plain text in the body of your email message. This poses significant risks if you were to accidentally send the message to the wrong address, or if prying eyes manage to access your email account. Taking simple precautionary steps to secure your tax documents goes a long way in helping to protect your finances.
If Worse Comes to Worst
Reach out to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) immediately if you find that you've been compromised. In fact, you can (and probably should) contact the IRS whenever you suspect that you may have been compromised. The IRS will investigate. If fraud is preventing you from properly filing your taxes, use Form 10439 to let the IRS know that something is awry.