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Is It Safe to Send Tax Forms via Email?


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    It's the beginning of the year, and that means tax season is coming. (Sorry.) Soon, you'll be receiving your W2s, W4s, 1099s, and any other tax documents for your work in the previous year. Whether you're filing your U.S. federal and state taxes on your own, or working with an accountant, you'll probably find yourself in the position of sharing your tax forms via email. 

    The problem with sharing your tax forms via standard email is that, once those files leave your network, you no longer have control over where that information ends up, or how it might be accessed in the future.

    But, with the Virtru email plugin (free for personal use), you can easily apply encryption and access controls to the emails and files you share — so you can send financial documents with your accountant, for example, and put an expiration date on it so that it doesn't sit in their inbox for all eternity. 

    Here are some tips on keeping tax forms secure and under your control this tax season, while still being able to share them with the right people. 

    Your Tax Forms: A Treasure Trove of Valuable Personal Information

    Before we get to the "how," it's helpful to start with the "why" behind protecting your tax forms when you share them digitally. Your tax forms can hold a vast amount of personally identifiable information (PII), including:

    • Your Social Security Number (SSN)
    • Your full name and residential address 
    • Your employment information, including your employer's address
    • Your salary and other compensation
    • Your deductions and withholdings, if applicable
    • Local income tax, if applicable

    That's a lot of information that you probably want to keep private — information that would be incredibly harmful if compromised. Adding an extra layer of protection to that sensitive tax information is essential, because once that information is lost or compromised, it could float out on the internet for years.  

    Native Encryption Is Good, But It's Just a Start 

    There's a base level of native email encryption that providers like Gmail and Outlook offer, but depending on whether you're a free or paid user, and what paid tier you may be on, the extent to which that encryption protects your data across its life cycle will differ. 

    The average user with a personal email account will have TLS (transport layer security) encryption, but not true end-to-end encryption. TLS falls short for protecting financial data under security regulations like GLBA, because it has limitations and dependencies based on who you are sharing sensitive information with. Even helpful tools like Gmail Confidential Mode can leave sensitive data vulnerable at points in its journey.  

    With your tax forms, which include your social security number, address, and all your financial details, you don't want to take any chances. Using a tool like Virtru's email plugin — which is free for personal use — can add valuable layers of protection and control to these highly sensitive documents. With Virtru, you can revoke access any time you want — so, when tax season is over, you can simply click a button to make your tax forms inaccessible to your accountant or any other parties you've shared them with.  

    How to Send Documents Securely via Email

    Here's how to use Virtru to securely send sensitive documents shared via email while retaining total control of your private information: 

    • Install the Virtru Chrome plugin (free for personal use, a paid subscription for business use) 
    • Follow the instructions to activate the Virtru plugin within your email client. 
    • Within your email client, create a new email message. Toggle on the Virtru button to make this email a secure message. Then, type in your content and attach any files. 
    • Select any access controls you want to apply, such as setting an expiration date, adding a watermark, or preventing download. 
    • Send your secure message. Your recipient will simply use their existing email credentials to authenticate their identity and access the secure message. They can also send an encrypted reply to your email. 
    • To view your protected messages, see whether they've been opened, or make changes to the access controls you've put in place, visit the Virtru Control Center

    How to Send a Social Security Number Safely 

    Whether you're sending tax forms, financial records, government paperwork, mortgage applications, or any other sensitive personal files containing your social security number, you'll want to make sure you're using advanced data control, like Virtru, to keep that information safe. 

    If your organization uses Virtru for business, you can take it a step further by implementing DLP (data loss prevention) rules that will automatically detect things like social security numbers or credit card numbers based on their format. You can opt to have Virtru automatically encrypt those messages, or you can have Virtru alert you before sending to double-check whether you want to encrypt before sending. 

    This gives you another level of confidence that you won't accidentally send something as vital as a social security number unprotected. 

    Virtru for Financial Professionals: Build Confidence with Your Clients

    If you're a tax preparer, a CPA, or any professional in the financial services space, exchanging sensitive information with clients is part of your job. And so is building trust: Trust is everything in the financial services space — just ask one of the Virtru customers in financial services, one of the world's largest banks.

    Virtru can help you strengthen your relationships with clients by providing a secure, transparent, and controlled avenue for exchanging sensitive information. Virtru Secure Share is ideal for collecting things like tax forms, paystubs, mortgage applications, and other sensitive files while giving your client total control of their own information throughout its life cycle. Virtru's solutions also support compliance with key financial services regulations like GLBA, FTC Safeguards, FINRA, PCI, and SOX.

    To see how Virtru can enhance your organization's security posture while building trust and protecting privacy, contact our team today for a demo

    Megan Leader

    Megan Leader

    Megan is the Director of Brand and Content at Virtru. With a background in journalism and editorial content, she loves telling good stories and making complex subjects approachable. Over the past 15 years, her career has followed her curiosity — from the travel industry, to payments technology, to cybersecurity.

    View more posts by Megan Leader

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