Accountants busily working away, stressful documentation issues, and the hope for a big tax refund—yup, tax season is definitely here. The end date to file your taxes is upon us, and if you’ve waited until the last minute, you’re most likely frantically hurrying to get them done. Or perhaps you’re an early bird who had your taxes filed months ago. Whatever your situation, there’s something we should all keep in mind for the current tax season and for the years ahead—the abounding tax scams that pop up every year, designed by scam artists looking to steal money from hardworking taxpayers. Check out the tax scams commonly reported in the last few years and keep your money safe from opportunistic thieves.
If you’ve received an email from the IRS stating that you owe money in back taxes, you may want to think twice before following the payment directions detailed in the message. It’s very rare that the IRS will resort to emailing taxpayers, and their correspondence is almost never about money owed—you’ll receive phone calls and letters in the mail long before your email app chimes. However, these scam artists are very sophisticated, and their work posing as an IRS agent can be very convincing, and supplemented with follow up emails and phone calls designed to stop you from questioning their legitimacy. Most email phishing scams around tax season will involve asking a taxpayer to update some sort of information for the IRS, including addresses, social security numbers, and more. These “updates” won’t actually be recorded by the government agency; more often than not the scammer has set up a fake website that appears to be an IRS owned entity. If you receive emails of this nature, assume a scam, and call the IRS directly and ask about said agent and the money you’re supposedly due to pay.
While phone calls are more trustworthy when it comes to IRS interactions, be sure to tread lightly when you receive threatening rings that threaten further action if you don’t send money or provide sensitive information. Like emails, your best course of action is to call a direct line to the IRS, which can be easily found at www.IRS.gov, and ask about the agent and your current standing with the government agency. According to the IRS, phone calls have become one of the most popular ways scammers gain access to sensitive information, and trusting citizens become victims through this tactic almost every day. Beware of callers that get aggressive when you ask questions; they’ll often use scare tactics to convince taxpayers to pony up the money or sensitive information quickly and may threaten you with jail time or audits. Be aware of calls from banks as well; a trusted bank will have a customer service number, so call back and check if the call came from an authorized bank employee.
Identity theft is one of the most common ways thieves benefit during tax season, as they have all of the information they need to file a bogus tax return and receive what you were owed. With the rates on identity theft on the rise, be sure you keep your sensitive information safe in every facet of your life. Leave your social security in a safe, protected place and never give out your SSN without knowing exactly how and why it will be used. Even things like searching for an apartment can see you handing out your sensitive information to near strangers; in cases like this, be sure to use a secure service like www.mysmartmove.com to keep your info safe.
It’s a sad world we live in when even those asking for charity are potential con artists. During tax season, you may see an influx of organizations or individuals approaching you for donations to their cause. Beyond philanthropic interests, some individuals can be swayed to donate with the promise of tax deductions, and scammers rely on this way of thinking. If you receive a request for money, do your research on the organization and look at the IRS’s approved list of charities. If you are looking to donate, use CharityNavigator.org to find legitimate charities that are near and dear to your heart.
Scammers are highly sophisticated these days, and it’s essential that you stay on your guard during tax season and the rest of the year to ensure your money, assets, and family remain safe. If you believe you’ve been approached by a scammer, be sure to contact the IRS immediately. File early to avoid any fraudulent filings, and keep your sensitive information secret, unless prompted by a legitimate source you know and trust.