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Staying Safe From Tax Season Scams

Now that W-2 forms are arriving, it’s time to consider how to stay safe from tax season scams. Every year, unfortunate taxpayers go to file their returns and are shocked to find that someone else has filed a fraudulent one in their name! Some innocent people also receive fraudulent phone calls from criminals impersonating tax officials. Sadly, tax fraud has only become more widespread as digital communication has opened new ways for it to happen.

While the IRS reports on multiple taxpayer-related scams, and even publishes a Dirty Dozen list, three scam variants are worth highlighting:

  •  Phishing and malware schemes
  •  Identity theft and falsely filed tax returns

  •  Impersonation scams

Once criminals have your information, they can continue to commit identity theft well beyond tax season. Here are some details on each of these scams, along with how to identify them and seek help in case of identity theft:

Phishing and malware schemes

The first type of scam often leads to identity theft and falsely filed tax returns, but may also result in you downloading malware. This happens when criminals send convincing phishing emails or direct you to convincing websites that appear to be IRS, state government, tax software or financial institution websites. Their goal is to trick you into entering your login credentials, verifying sensitive personal information or downloading malware.

  • Never click on email links; type the organization’s website into your web browser.
  • If you feel something is suspicious, contact the organization through a known method, like their publicly-posted customer service line.

  • Don’t reply to emails or texts asking for personal or tax information.  

Identity theft and falsely filed tax returns
Once criminals have your personal information, they can use it to commit identity theft or file a false tax return in your name. In this case, if the criminal files the return before you do, they’re getting your refund money and forcing you to go through the arduous process of proving that it wasn’t you who filed the return. Criminals send phishing emails or make phone calls to trick you into providing your information so they can commit this type of fraud.

  • Be wary of any contact by phone or email claiming to be from the IRS, as they don’t contact taxpayers directly for this type of information.
  • File your tax return as soon as you get your W-2 forms and other tax information. Criminals can’t successfully file a fraudulent return if you’ve already filed with the IRS!  

Impersonation scams
This scam involves a criminal impersonating the IRS or a tax official, such as a tax advocacy panel or tax preparer. They may say you owe money to the IRS or your state tax department or may represent themselves as a trusted tax authority and request information. This contact can occur through websites, emails or threatening calls or text messages that seem official. Sometimes, these scammers request that their victims pay by strange methods like gift cards or prepaid cards. 

If you do in fact owe tax money to the IRS, you’ll first receive an official bill in the mail before being contacted by phone or email. For a quick reference, the IRS states that these are four things they’ll never do:

  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer

  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying

  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe

Seeking help and reporting scams
The IRS encourages taxpayers to send suspicious emails related to tax fraud to its email account. Other forms of tax fraud can be reported by following these instructions.

If you suspect that you’ve been a victim of fraud or identity theft, please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website, which provides a step-by-step recovery plan and assistance in taking action. It allows you to report:

  • If someone filed a return fraudulently in your name  
  • If your information was exposed in a major data breach
  • Many other types of fraud  

If you believe someone has used your Social Security number to fraudulently submit a tax return, you can also call the IRS at 800-908-4490.

Keep these common types of fraud in mind, and don’t hesitate to seek assistance if you become a victim.


When your computer life is held for ransom

by Aditi Jhaveri
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Imagine if everything on your computer was “kidnapped” — including all of your precious family photos and important personal documents. And the only way you could access any of it again was if you paid a lot of money — or bitcoins — to a hacker. Even if you pay, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your stuff back.

Sounds like something out of a movie, right? Unfortunately, it’s happening in real life. It’s called ransomware.


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