Would you take a selfie to file your tax returns? Alabama is offering state residents a major incentive for doing just that.
The state has partnered with MorphoTrust USA, an identity solutions company, to run a pilot program that encourages individuals to use the company's electronic ID app, eID, to file taxes. Georgia has run a similar pilot program using the eID technology. The goal: to eliminate tax refund fraud, a dark web business that has grown in recent years. According to MorphoTrust, the app acts as a secure digital credential, using your state ID and selfie to verify your identity.
When you download the app, you're asked to verify your phone number, scan the front and back of your driver's license into the app using your iPhone's camera, and take a selfie. That selfie will be the key to unlocking your eID account. Alabama residents will need to register their eID with the Alabama Department of Revenue to then file taxes. The state is promising priority processing, meaning you'll get your refund faster and can book that summer vacation you've been holding off on.
For now, there are many limitations to eID. For one, residents of states who aren't piloting eID can't use the app. Plus, it's only available for iOS, and it can be used for state tax returns only — not federal.
A selfie may be a positive security step, but it isn't an ultimate solution to fraud. Yes, "the picture probably makes it a lot easier for you to prove that your return is the genuine one and makes it much more likely that you will get your return on time," says Phillip-Hallam Baker, VP and principal scientist at cybersecurity company Comodo. But "given that the total tax collected in the U.S. is around $7 trillion," he adds, "it seems to me that the government should be looking into the problem rather more thoroughly than merely throwing out a few smart apps.”
However, if you want to file your taxes via phone, there are other services similar to eID, but with a biometric authentication element included. TurboTax, for example, which saw an 85% increase in app downloads during the last tax season, uses touch ID and multi-factor authentication. The app also offers users on-demand feedback from credentialed CPAs when you have questions that need answering. And with H&R Block's app, you can take a photo of your W-2 to have the information automatically imported into your return.
With all this talk of taxes, a friendly reminder: You have six days left to file.