It’s tax time once again, bringing with it a dreadful byproduct of the season: tax scams. Yes, tax scams pose a threat to consumers all year long; however, taxpayers are particularly vulnerable during this time of year as they race to file their paperwork on time. Understanding some of the most common tax scams can help ensure you don’t fall victim to this ever-increasing crime.
Typically, tax scams fall into two categories:
With phone-based tax scams, taxpayers receive a call (most often from a number altered to look like it’s from the IRS) from an individual claiming to be an IRS representative. The approach of the call generally follows two courses of action:
- You’ve done something wrong or illegal, and the caller is alerting you of the problem and demanding payment from your bank or credit card
- You’ve earned a tax refund; however, to receive payment you must offer up critical personal information that may include bank accounts or social security numbers
How To Know It’s Bogus
Many people find themselves so shaken up over their purported misdeed (or so excited over their potential refund), that they quickly give up their personal information. How can you tell if it’s bogus? Remember that the IRS will never:
- Call about taxes owed without sending a bill first
- Demand immediate payment without giving you the chance to question/appeal
- Require specific payment methods
- Expect you to divulge debit or credit card information over the phone
Most importantly, the IRS will never threaten to contact law enforcement should you not pay the bill over the phone.
Phishing occurs when taxpayers receive fraudulent emails that direct people to click on phony Internal Revenue Service websites, so they can swipe the user’s personal information for future use. Some versions of this IRS phishing scam may also include attachments with embedded viruses that instantly launch a data breach or cause damage to your devices.
The content of the phishing email is essentially the same as the phone call. Some inform readers that they’re entitled to a tax refund, some detail a payment must be made – whatever the “bait,” the piece will try to lure you to a link to click so the virus can set to work stealing your personal data.
Tips To Keep Yourself (And Your Personal Information) Safe
Beyond knowing how to identify a scam, you should also arm yourself with a few simple tips to remain vigilant about protecting yourself:
- Only file taxes on your own home computer, and never submit using public WiFi to make it harder for scammers to steal your private information
- Never store tax data on your home computer; instead, download sensitive data to a portable drive that you store in a safe or security box
- Use strong passwords on any account that may store sensitive, personal data
- Delete any emails that request personal information
- Refuse to engage in conversation with anyone claiming to represent the IRS
One of the best ways to protect yourself during tax season? Partner with a reputable, professional tax preparer. A qualified accounting firm will have the insight and experience needed to advise you throughout the entire tax filing process to keep you and your private information safe.