Tax scamsters are out in force now. It’s prime time for them. There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself.
The most prevalent swindles involve stealing your personal information. When they get a hold of your Social Security or bank account information, they can file false returns and even open up credit cards in your name.
How do swindlers get your information? They can often get what they want through “phishing,” which are emails that ask you to send them personal identifying information. They also may call you.
To its credit, the IRS has provided several tips on how to avoid tax scams.
— Make Sure All Communication With Your Tax Preparer is Secure. My tax guy sends me encrypted files that are password protected. But hackers have cleverly used tax preparer emails to steal information. This is what the IRS found in a recent spate of scams:
“The criminals used the preparers’ systems to complete client tax returns, file them with the IRS and then direct the refunds to their personal bank accounts. However, the incident shows the value of strong passwords.”
— Watch Out for Fake Emails. In some cases, hackers will send a fake form requesting more information. If you’re not expecting this inquiry, don’t respond to it. Follow up with a call and remember that all payroll or income information is between you, your employer and the IRS.
“One successful scheme aimed at payroll professionals could easily have migrated to tax preparers. A criminal created a “spoofing” email to appear as though it came from a company executive. The email requested Form W-2 information for each employee. Because of this scam, tens of thousands of Forms W-2 were sent to identity thieves.”
— Keep An Eye on Tax Preparers. Professionals are often targeted with fake client communications. They should always ask you directly for any additional tax filing information.
“One ruse tries to make tax preparers think a client is emailing with follow-up information from a previous discussion. The included attachment doesn’t contain tax information; it contains malware designed to infect computers.
The conversational tone of the phishing email tries to trick the preparer into thinking he had an earlier conversation with this client and now the ‘client’ is following up with requested tax information.”
— Beware of Fake IRS Communications. This is one of the most prevalent scams. Someone will call or email claiming that you owe back taxes. They often threaten you with a lawsuit or arrest.
I got one of these calls. When I tried to call them back, the number didn’t answer. It came from a scam call center that could cloak its identity.
“Cybercriminals often pose as the IRS and request information that the IRS would never ask for via email or text. One popular scam tries to trick preparers into providing their password information for IRS e-Services accounts.
If you are in doubt about an e-services or IRS Quick Alert communication, go directly to the application through IRS.gov. Do not click on any link or attachment from a suspicious e-mail.”
What’s a consistent tip-off that you’re about to be scammed? Usually it’s a phone call with an aggressive caller or an email demanding immediate action. If you get one of these calls or emails, just ignore them. The IRS doesn’t call or send emails. The majority of the time they send letters and numbers for you to call.
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