More than a third of the American public has doubts about the security of filing tax returns electronically, despite government encouragement of this growing practice, an Associated Press poll finds.
The doubters range from people like 71-year-old Jack Hurst of
Los Angeles who says he doesn't know anything about the Internet to
48-year-old Gerhardt Kasper of south Florida who says he knows too
The poll, conducted for The AP by ICR of Media, Pa., found 57
percent say they wouldn't worry about the privacy of their
financial information when filing online, while 36 percent say they
"I like to put it down on paper," said Hurst, who is
semi-retired and does not own a computer. "I don't like to have it
floating around in the air."
Kasper, manager of a service company who lives in Delray Beach,
Fla., said he isn't convinced that the Internet "is a secure
platform." While he feels the technology isn't fully developed for
secure transmission, he's more worried about human error.
"There are usually two idiots, one at either end of the line
the sender and the receiver," Kasper said.
Nevertheless, the number of people filing taxes electronically
is increasing. The Internal Revenue Service says about 30 million,
or one-fourth of tax returns, were filed online last year, and they
expect that to grow by close to 4 million this year, said Steve
Holden, an IRS official who handles electronic tax administration.
In the AP poll, almost one-third of respondents said they expected
to file their tax returns electronically this year, slightly higher
than IRS projections.
"There are still some lingering concerns that are deeply
seated," Holden said. "Not just about e-filing taxes. The
concerns will go down as taxpayers and consumers get more
comfortable with e-commerce."
A 1998 IRS reform law set a goal of 80 percent filing
electronically by 2007, but IRS projections earlier this year said
that only about half of all returns will be filed electronically by
With the tax deadline approaching Monday, the IRS emphasized
that people who file online have the advantage of getting their
refund in half the time of paper filers and that tax software
catches many errors, making the error rate in online returns far
A third of the people in the AP poll said they would be more
likely to file returns electronically if it meant they could get
tax refunds quickly, while six of 10 said it would make no
difference. The telephone survey of 1,002 from March 30 to April 5,
had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Young adults seemed less concerned about the security issue.
With 65 percent of those ages 18 to 34 said they would not worry
about their tax information online, compared with 46 percent of
those 65 and older. One in six of the older Americans said they
simply did not know whether to be worried or not.
A small but growing number of people are not only filing their
taxes online, but are preparing them through the Internet rather
than on software installed in their desktop computers.
It's extremely safe to prepare taxes on desktop software and
then file them electronically, said Robert Sterling, an online
analyst who specializes in financial services.
By contrast, it's more of a risk to prepare those tax returns
online, he said, because "your file is on an Internet-exposed
server, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for weeks or months."
Bob Meighan, vice president of the consumer tax team at Intuit,
a major provider of tax preparation software, said the 1.1 million
tax filers who have already prepared and filed online using the
company's "Turbotax for the Web" this year are a testament to the
public's growing comfort with the Internet.
The online tax industry experienced problems earlier this year
when a programming glitch allowed about two dozen H&R; Block
customers to read other people's financial data. The company said
its system is running fine after repairs.
Problems with online security are more an exception than the
rule, Sterling said.
"They shouldn't be that concerned about it," Sterling said.
"It's probably more secure than sending it through the Postal