Tax Scams: What You Need to Know

posted January 31, 2019 in Blog

This year, the IRS is cautioning taxpayers to be extra vigilant of email phishing scams because of a 60% increase over the past year. Many phishing scam emails will appear to be from the IRS and, unfortunately, many will be opened by the recipients. Once these emails are opened, the scammer will use one of several methods to get at the victim’s personal information, such as financial data, tax details, usernames and passwords. The scammers will then use this information to steal the victim’s identity, empty their accounts or file taxes in the victim’s name in order to steal their refund.

Scammers have several means for fooling victims into handing over their sensitive information, and we want to help equip you to recognize these means. The most popular tax-related phishing scams include the following:

1. Tax transcript scams. In these scams, victims are conned into opening emails appearing to be from the IRS with important information about their taxes. Unfortunately, these emails are bogus and contain malware.

2. Threatening emails. Also appearing to be from the IRS, these emails will have subject lines like “IRS Important Notice” and will demand immediate payment for unpaid back taxes. When the victim clicks on the embedded link, their device will be infected with malware.

3. Refund rebound. In this scam, a scammer posing as an IRS agent will email a taxpayer and claim the taxpayer was erroneously awarded too large a tax refund. The scammer will demand the immediate return of some of the money via prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Of course, there was no mistake with the victim’s tax refund and any money the victim forwards goes straight to the scammer.

4. Phony phone call. In this highly prevalent scam, a caller spoofs the IRS’s toll-free number and calls a victim, claiming they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. Those taxes, they are told, must be paid immediately under threat of arrest, deportation or driver’s-license suspension. Obviously, this too is a fraud and the victim is completely innocent.

If you’re targeted:

If targeted by any scam, it’s crucial to not engage with the scammer. If your Caller ID says that the IRS is on the phone, don’t pick up!  Even answering the call to tell the scammer to stop calling can be enough to mark you as an easy target for future scams. If you accidentally pick up the phone, hang up as quickly as possible.

Similarly, suspicious-looking emails about tax information should not be opened. Mark any fake tax-related emails that land in your inbox as spam to keep the scammers from emailing again.

If you’re targeted by a tax scam, report the incident to help the authorities crack down on these incidences. You can forward suspicious tax-related emails to phishing@irs.gov, or can also alert the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.

Protect yourself from tax scams.

Stay one step ahead of scammers this tax season by being proactive and protecting yourself by following these simple steps:

  • File early in the season so scammers have less time and opportunity to steal your identity, file on your behalf and collect your refund.
  • Use the strongest security settings for your computer and update whenever possible.
  • Use unique and strong passwords for your accounts and credit or debit cards.
  • Choose two-step authentication when conducting financial transactions online.

Remember, the IRS will never:

  • Call about taxes owed without having first sent you a bill via snail mail.
  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone.
  • Threaten to have you arrested or deported for failing to pay your taxes.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes.
  • Ask you to share sensitive information, like a debit card number or checking account number, over the phone.

Be alert and be careful this tax season!  If you’d like to learn more about protecting your identity and your assets, please join us for a Fraud & Security Workshop on March 5th, 2019 in Ames from 6:30-7:30. If interested, please click here for full details and to register.