The 2008 tax season has presented many new challenges for average Americans as they work to comply with their tax filing obligations. The challenges began when Congress passed an Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch in late December last year, which delayed the processing of a number of tax returns until early February. Later in the year, Congress added another twist with an economic stimulus package that will put up to $600 ($1,200 for married couples) into the hands of more than 130 million households. This stimulus package includes payments for Social Security and Veterans Administration Benefit recipients and others who would not normally be required to file a return.
The good news, though, is that the tax season is moving along well. As of the middle of March, the IRS has received 4.9 percent more returns than last year and has paid nearly $150 billion dollars in refunds, which is up 5.6 percent from last year. This growth is attributed to excellent communication efforts on behalf of the IRS, the rapid response by the tax industry to react to the law changes, and the trust and close working relationships that have been built by these groups.
As of March 14, the IRS website exceeded 100 million visits and is clearly a site trusted by the public. Through IRS.gov, taxpayers can access free services through the Free File web page that offers free tax filing to over 70 percent of taxpayers. Each member company offers tax construction and electronic filing of their federal return to a certain segment of the population.
The economic stimulus payment process requires that a 2007 tax return be filed as one of the qualification requirements to be eligible for the payment. This requirement has created a need to communicate and build trust with a different audience who may not be computer-savvy. Unfortunately, this group is often a target of phishing and other scams. This makes it extremely important to demonstrate and instill trust with the tax filer.
The IRS and tax industry are working together very hard to get the message out to these individuals that electronic filing is safe, secure and the easiest way for individuals to make their filings. The IRS has a special information center, and individual companies have developed special instructions to assist in completing the specially designed eFiling process.
In its own effort to instill trust with taxpayers, online tax filing service FileYourTaxes.com launched a campaign to educate taxpayers on how to protect themselves online and conduct safe e-commerce and eFiling. The challenge was both human and technological. It is as important to educate individuals on how to protect themselves as it is to build the infrastructure and technology to afford that protection. To this end, FileYourTaxes.com integrated VeriSign EV SSL Certificates into its trust system to help assure site visitors that the service’s landing page to which they are linked from IRS.gov truly belongs to FileYourTaxes.com.
The EV SSL Certificate presents added visual benefits, such as making the address bar turn green while providing additional authentication information about the company. FileYourTaxes.com also implemented email validation systems to ensure taxpayers can safely receive emails from the company. FileYourTaxes.com also educated customers on the types of messages that the company will send them and warned them not to open attachments in email messages from a sender who may claim affiliation with the company.
These programs were put in place before the tax season to enhance security of the tax filing process and provide additional assurance for FileYourTaxes.com’s one-of-a-kind integrated file-and-pay-by-credit-card program. All other FileYourTaxes.com programs and offers, including free and paid services both for individuals and businesses, enjoy all of the same security benefits.
Early indications show that the program has been successful. During customer service calls, FileYourTaxes.com customers have mentioned that they noticed the additional verification on the address bar of their browser and were pleased that the company helped them to ensure that mail would be delivered to their inbox as opposed to a junk or spam folder. Customers also appreciated the education provided during the filing process about how to avert phishing emails by paying attention to the address bar and looking for the green bar EV enables before entering personal data.
The display of the trust marks, other logos and the overall focus on this privacy and security is how FileYourTaxes.com sets itself apart from competitors in the marketplace. Trust marks, such as ‘Identified by VeriSign,’ have helped the overall success of online tax filing, which is showing growth of over 12 percent this year alone.
Consumer education is still the long-term solution to averting many identity theft attacks. For consumers, using simple tools and being vigilant about monitoring sites for security cues when entering data to a website, is the first front in creating a more secure internet experience.
One lesson businesses can take to our bottom line this and every tax season is that consumers will always reward organizations that go the extra mile to protect them with the latest technologies, consumer education and privacy policies. We at FileYourTaxes.com are pleased to be ahead of the curve in these efforts and we expect that online businesses across all service sectors are likely to realize the same success that FileYourTaxes.com has experienced in this regard.