What to Know About Tax Scams
Tax time is upon us, and taxpayers--both businesses and individuals--need to be wary about a range of scams. Realize that most are preventable. With a bit of knowledge, you can avoid becoming a victim, avoiding fraudulent returns, phony calls and phishing swindles.
The number of fraudulent returns is booming. Thieves use the Social Security numbers of unsuspecting Americans, file bogus tax returns and pocket the resulting tax refunds. But the IRS is stepping up its efforts to combat this scam: An early detection system enabled the agency to identify 35,000 fraudulent returns in the first few months of 2016's tax season, preventing $193.8 million in fake refunds.
Still, the scam is not totally avoidable and you'll never know whether you're a victim until your real tax return is rejected by the IRS because the phony one already was accepted. How can you lower your risk of being a victim? File your tax return early — before a crook can file one.
Develop good habits with your identifying information: Use your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, check your credit report regularly for suspicious activity and don't throw papers with sensitive information in the trash.
Phony calls from the IRS
One of the most rampant tax scams involves phony calls from IRS agents. These schemes have cost victims more than $23 million over the past few years. There are a few versions of this scam, but in general, the caller will claim to be an IRS agent, saying that you owe tax, like a federal student tax, which doesn't exist, or that you are entitled to a huge refund in order to get you to give the caller more information.
But the swindle is easy to avoid. The IRS will never:
- Call without first mailing you a bill. For certain, it won't demand immediate payment on the phone.
- Demand that you pay taxes without an opportunity to appeal or question the amount owed.
- Require a specific payment method.
- Ask for a credit/debit card number over the phone.
If you get such a call, hang up immediately and report the scam to the IRS. Even if you do owe tax, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The agents there will be happy to help you and you'll know you're talking to the right people.
Phishing and malware
The IRS reported a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents for the 2016 tax season--and it doesn't seem likely scammers have given up since then! These incidents involve fake emails designed to trick victims into thinking the messages come directly from the IRS, and some look very official, even directing you to a website that's awfully similar to the IRS's official website at www.irs.gov.
Like phone scams, phishing and malware shakedowns are fairly easy to avoid:
- Remember that the IRS doesn't initiate contact by email, text message or social media. Ever.
- The official IRS website and any legitimate IRS webpage will begin with IRS.gov. Don't be fooled by variations such as "irsgov" or "irs.net."
Finally, there's a new Form W-2 phishing scam everyone, both employees and employers, should be aware of.
If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS and you weren't expecting one, don't reply, click on any links or open any attachments. You may wish to simply forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org before deleting it. And, as always, stay in touch with us; we can help you separate fact from fiction.