Like any other major event when lots of personal information is sent, tax season brings out many scam artists. With the broader access to the Internet and more people filing their returns electronically, it is easier to be targeted by the crooks. The goal of these criminals is always the same: Get your personal information and take advantage of it.
Be very suspicious around filing time of any emails, correspondence or phone calls you might receive from someone claiming to represent IRS. This is NOT how IRS (EFTPS or Office of Professional Responsibility) works, as they do not reach out to individuals to update their records, discuss tax/financial situation, or request any other data. Under any circumstances you should reveal your Social Security number, bank/credit card account information, or share passwords.
What to watch out for.
The most common form of scam is phishing in the form of emails with IRS logo claiming to be IRS. The objective is to trick you to believe that you are required to update or share some of your information with the IRS. For this reason, IRS does not contact individuals via email so if you receive such email, proceed cautiously. It is very likely that the email contains a virus or some type of malicious software that installs on your computer as you access the website through the link included in the email. Good scammers will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a fake website from that of the IRS. Many people access those websites anyways, lured by subject lines such as “tax refund” or “urgent IRS message”. Regardless if you access a phony website or not, monitor you credit cards and bank information around tax season as your information could have been misappropriated in some other way without any of your knowledge.
You should be also alerted of any company claiming to settle any debt you owe to IRS or help reduce it significantly. If it sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. If you’re looking for ways to reduce your obligations with IRS, talk to a legitimate company. The least expensive service is not always the proper and legitimate solution. Make sure the company preparing handling your returns has been in business for some time and not sprung to action in February; you can even try to check their references through Better Business Bureau or ask them directly for references. Additionally, any type of claim by these companies promising refunds, credits, or similar tax benefits without necessity to provide documents should be an immediate red flag. They typically like to inflate your expenses, include phony deductions, and trick you into signing a blank form. They will gain at your expense, as you will be responsible for potential penalties, additional tax payments, and interests.
How to protect your identity during tax season?
IRS offers several tips on protecting your personal information from scammers. If you’re contacted by any of the below mentioned methods, it’s best if you:
- Email – Disregards and definitely do not click on any attachments or links it includes; do not respond to any of these emails; you can delete the message right away or forward it entirely to firstname.lastname@example.org; the same can be done with websites that appear to be the IRS.
- Phone call – Gather all possible information about the person calling you including call back number, person’s name and employee number; contact the IRS to determine validity of that person and in fact you received a phone call from IRS, call the person back on the number provided to you.
- Regular mail – contact the IRS to verify originality of the letter; if legitimate, act on the letter’s message and respond if required
If you ever have any doubts whether or not some form of communication you received is or is not from IRS (after all, people are contacted by IRS quite often these days) just give them a call. In fact, this is what IRS suggests you do. True, it might be inconvenient and you’ll most likely end up spending quite a little bit of time on the phone but this is still a small price to pay comparing to falling a victim of tax fraud. That can turn into a nightmare and it will take more than one phone call to clean up the mess caused by the crooks.