By Jeffrey R. Wolfe, Senior Vice President and Manager, Wealth Planning Strategies
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The IRS continues to publish warnings for taxpayers about the multiple tax scams attempting to gain access to personal information, steal tax refunds or rip off individuals. For example, the IRS publishes the “Dirty Dozen” of tax scams, which you can review here. Some of the prominent techniques garnering attention are:
- Phone Scams: One of the most common scams involves fraudsters calling taxpayers over the phone and impersonating the IRS. Often these calls target elderly taxpayers or those that may have English as a second language. The calls are often aggressive; threatening big fines, jail time, or even deportation unless an immediate payment is made via gift cards, debit cards or wire transfers. The IRS reminds us that they will not make initial contact over the phone. The IRS also states they will never ask for payment via these untraditional methods, nor will they threaten immediate criminal charges.
- Text Scams & Phishing: The IRS warns that especially during tax season scammers target people with realistic-looking emails and texts about tax returns and refunds. The texts often contain links to phony IRS websites. Specifically, Spear Phishing is on the rise which is a trick using the IRS logo and a variety of subject lines such as “Action Required: Your account has now been put on hold.” The IRS has observed similar bogus emails that claim to be from a “tax preparation application provider.” One such variation offers an “unusual activity report” and a solution link for the recipient to restore their account. These are all scams and are an attempt to gather your private information or maybe even to file a false return to gain your refund. The IRS specifically states that it will NEVER initiate contact with a taxpayer regarding a tax bill or refund via text or email. If you get receive such contact, immediately delete it.
The IRS is asking for your help to stop these scammers. They ask that if you receive a suspected fraudulent message that you, the taxpayer, should take a screenshot of the message and include the screenshot in an email to email@example.com with the following information:
- Date/time/time zone they received the message
- Phone number that received the text message
The IRS also offers suggestions and resources to help you as well. They recommend the following precautionary steps:
- Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure. Treat your personal information like you do your cash; don’t leave it lying around.
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card company and even the IRS. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
- Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records you store on your computer. Use strong and varied passwords.
There are recommended links to review as well. To learn additional steps you can take to protect your personal and financial data, visit Taxes. Security. Together.
If you are getting a refund, make sure you get it! Remain diligent when managing your tax preparations, and if something seems “phishy” from the IRS, trust your instincts and question what’s going on to help avoid being scammed.