Protecting Yourself Against Tax Scams
It’s that time of year again! Tax time, that is. With tax season also comes an unfortunate share of tax scammers. While none of us necessarily like having to pay taxes, there’s no question that falling victim to a fraudulent tax scam is less enjoyable by far. Though you can encounter financial fraud artists at any given point throughout the year, it is imperative to remain extra vigilant as you enter tax-filing season to ensure you don’t fall for any nefarious schemes.
One of the most important ways you can protect yourself is knowing how the IRS typically contacts taxpayers, so that you’ll be able to detect any scam artists who claim to be affiliated with the IRS, but in reality are just seeking to take advantage of unsuspecting targets. Here are some red flags to look out for to avoid falling victim to financial fraud artists this tax season:
For starters, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email (or text message, or social media direct messages) to request personal or financial information without any prior communication. Any official communication from the IRS will come to you via a letter in the mail, delivered by the United States Postal Service. In the case that you do have an overdue tax bill or delinquent tax return, you will still receive several official notices in the mail before you begin receiving any phone calls or visits to your door.
Unsecure Payment Methods
The IRS will never call you and demand immediate payment over the phone, especially via specific payment methods like gift cards or prepaid debit cards. The IRS will also never ask for debit and credit card numbers over the phone. If you do owe taxes, you will receive a bill in the mail from the IRS, and tax payments will always need to be made payable to the United States Treasury.
The IRS will never threaten your arrest by either local police officers or immigration officers. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license or immigration status, and any threats of such are emotional intimidation tactics intended to trick potential victims into compliance with their scams.
Know Your Rights
Finally, The IRS will never demand that you pay taxes without first giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount that you supposedly owe.
In addition to familiarizing yourself with the methods of communication typically employed by the IRS in order to detect and deter any imposters, there are additional steps you can take to prevent tax scams and identity theft as you prepare to file this year:
- File your taxes early, if possible. Tax fraudsters will file false returns using stolen Social Security numbers early on in the tax season, before most taxpayers get around to filing their own returns, and the victimized taxpayer will be none the wiser until they go to file and are informed that someone else has already filed a return in their name and collected their refund.
- If filing your taxes online, fill out your return from your home computer and avoid using a public computer with a public Wi-Fi network. This leaves you unsecured and opens the door for fraudsters to steal any personal data that may have been stored on the device.
- Use strong passwords, and go with a tax preparation service or software that requires two-factor authentication to log in. This added security will make it more difficult for your account and information to be hacked.
- Select a legitimate and professional tax preparer. If someone makes promises of an unusually large tax return without knowing your specific situation or reviewing your information, they are likely a scam artist. Review their credentials and ask for references before making any decisions. The IRS provides a Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers that you can use to find one near you.
If you do happen to receive any suspicious communication regarding taxes, here are some steps you can take to safeguard against these IRS impersonators:
- Remember that the IRS does not send unsolicited emails to the public. The IRS would also not include or attach any sensitive documents in an email, such as a tax transcript. If you do receive an email claiming to be from the IRS regarding your tax bill, as with any suspicious email, do not click on any links or open any attachments, as they may install destructive malware onto your computer. Don’t be fooled by fake website links that are designed to trick you into giving out personal and financial data.
- If you receive any unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS, forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org and then delete the email. Again, do not open any attachments or click on any links.
- If you receive any suspicious phone calls or messages, do not engage with the scam artist, do not give out any information, and do not call them back. Just hang up or ignore them.
- You can report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission via the FTC Complaint Assistant on their official website, and add IRS Telephone Scam in the notes of your complaint. You can also contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration via the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting online form, or you can call 800-366-4484. Additionally, you can contact the Office of the Attorney General for your state or other consumer advocacy agency, such as the Georgia Department of Law Consumer Protection Division.
Always bear in mind the number one piece of advice when it comes to protecting yourself from scams and fraud: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Keep your wits about you this tax season in an effort to ward off any attempts at financial fraud.
At Robins Financial Credit Union, safeguarding our members’ information is a top priority. To learn more about how we protect our members every day, give us a call or stop by any of our branch locations.