No doubt computers and the internet have made filing your taxes easier. But it can also be big trouble if your tax returns--and all the private information they contain--wind up online. We found one local man it happened to.
Don Bodiker uses a popular file sharing program to swap music and other information over the internet. He also uses his computer to prepare his taxes.
He never thought the two had anything to do with each other, until he got a call. "I had no idea who he was or what he was. I just thought he was a typical telemarketer," Bodiker said of the call. "And he wanted to inform me that my tax returns were being posted out on the internet. I was very skeptical but he then proceeded to tell me some very specific details about my tax return."
File sharing software allows you to download files stored in certain shared folders on other users' computers. The flipside is they can also download files from your shared folder. There's a folder on their computer the Bodikers use store the music files they wanted to share. What they didn't realize is that their tax return software saved their returns in the very same place.
"Oh my God, I thought everybody and anybody knows exactly what my social security number is, my address, you know, anything that I had that was pertinent on there that could be used as an identity theft process," said Bodiker.
And he's not alone. A simple search on the file sharing network for the word "tax" turned up hundreds of returns. "It's made me more aware of the possibilities of programs that you attach to your computer," said Bodiker. "Ultimately, if you don't have to keep it on your computer, make a hard copy, and file it away. And that's always the best thing."
That's some good, old-fashioned advice for the information age.
The good Samaritan who called Bodiker--he only wants to be identified as Jeff--says he's called dozens of others and has plenty more to go. He says if you use file sharing, just be careful your shared folder is not the one you save sensitive information to.
Fortunately it looks like Bodiker caught the problem before his information spread.
This is not the only trouble associated with file sharing software. People can also get into trouble for swapping copyrighted material. There is content out there that's free and meant to be shared. You just need to make sure your private information doesn't go with it.