Income tax filing time is a prime opportunity for scam artists and fraudsters to try to take advantage. We are all busy, rushing around our lives to soccer practice, recitals, the grocery store, buying gas, and telling grandma that we don’t need one more bran muffin. Within all of that breaking whirlwind, we still have to read, parse, and respond to hundreds of emails, texts, and social media updates every day. It makes for a great environment in which the unscrupulous act maliciously.
This time of year, income tax return filing time, criminals love to trick people into revealing information that allows the scammers to file a false return or demand payment of false fines or fees. Here are some methods scam artists use to try to trick you out of your hard earned wage cabbage.
One area where a lot of us have some anxiety is possibly miscalculating our taxes and the potential for audits, fines, and fees. This is where the bad guys will try late fee scams. Taxpayers will receive a phone call saying the taxpayer is late paying a fee or additional taxes and must immediately pay the taxes and fines. The caller will be very demanding and will threaten harsh consequences such as exorbitant fines or even jail time. Per the IRS anti-fraud page, the IRS will never call you first. The agency will send notifications of issues via official hardcopy mail first. The agency also will not demand immediate payment of taxes or fines as the first communication. They move slowly and with clear intent with lots of notifications of pending actions and requirements. See the official IRS site for more information.
Another area where fraudsters work, is in the time after you have filed your return. Be careful to check the contents, email addresses, and any web links in emails you receive after you file your return. Ensure the emails are actually from your filer, your tax preparer, or the IRS before replying or supplying any personal information. Phishing emails related to a return are very common this time of year. For more information about phishing, please take a look at the Information Technology website and for information on tax specific phishing, take a look at the official IRS web site.
The last issue I want to point out are criminals that pose as tax return preparers. Please be careful and seek out tax preparation advice only from legitimate preparers. New regulations require all paid tax return preparers have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization and attends continuing education classes. You can always go to well-known companies or organizations as well as official tax preparation volunteers. Check for volunteer organizations near you. Be very careful of providing your personal information (Social Security Number, addresses, income information, and bank or credit card numbers) to anyone unless you have carefully established their bona fides.
Take advantage of all the information available to you. Please go check out these security and anti-fraud pages. I am not promoting a product, just pointing out the wonderful information Intuit has that might help you protect your tax information a bit better. For more general advice on protecting yourself from phishing, identity theft and fraud, visit the Federal Trade Commission web site. As always, keep an eye out for anyone asking for your username and password. Don’t respond to random, suspect emails. If you feel that something is off, err to the side of caution.
Please be careful this tax season and let’s keep every one safe!