Protect Yourself from Scams this Tax Season
Tax time is coming up, and unfortunately that means there are tax scammers getting ready to brush up their scamming skills to trick and intimidate taxpayers. Even though you can be faced with fraud at any point throughout the year and should always take precautions to keep your information safe, it’s critical to take extra caution during tax season. One of the best ways you can protect yourself from tax scams is by familiarizing yourself with these common red flags.
Unusual Contact Methods
The Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, is the body of the federal government responsible for collecting tax payments and administering tax refunds. As an official government agency, the IRS has protocols for contacting taxpayers in line with standard government practices. Any official communication from the IRS will arrive via letter delivered to you in the mail by the United States Postal Service. In the event that you have an overdue tax bill, delinquent tax return, or any other concern that the IRS needs you to resolve, they will send several official notices by mail before contacting you by phone or sending a representative to your door. The IRS does not send out any unsolicited forms of communication to the public, including email, text, or social media messages; nor will they ever contact you to request personal or financial information. The IRS would never email any sensitive documents such as a tax transcript. If you receive any suspicious phone calls or messages claiming to be from the IRS, do not engage with the scammer or give out any information. Do not open any attachments, download any files, or click any links. You can report any suspected scams to the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov or to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration via the IRS Scam Reporting form, or you can forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, you can contact the Office of the Attorney General and file a complaint through the Georgia Department of Law Consumer Protection Division.
Unusual Payment Methods
Along with having standard government protocols for contacting taxpayers, the IRS also has protocols for requesting and accepting payments from taxpayers. The IRS will never call you and demand immediate payment over the phone. The IRS will especially never request payments be completed via payment methods such as gift cards or prepaid debit cards, as these are not secure payment methods. The IRS will also never request payments via common peer-to-peer payment apps like CashApp, Venmo, or PayPal. No government agency is able to request or accept payments made through these methods. The IRS will also never ask for your debit or credit card numbers and information over the phone. If you do owe any payments to the IRS, you will receive a bill and an accompanying notice in the mail. Tax payments always need to be made payable to the United States Treasury.
Receiving any type of threat is a definite red flag that you are dealing with a scammer. The IRS will not threaten to have you arrested, either by local police officers or by federal immigration officers. The IRS does not have the authority to revoke your driver’s license or immigration status. Any threats of this nature are emotional intimidation tactics, used with the purpose of tricking targets into compliance with the attempted scam. The IRS will also never demand that you pay taxes without first allowing you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount you allegedly owe. It’s important to know your rights and not be intimidated by unfounded threats. Any attempts to circumvent your rights need to be taken as an absolute red flag.
Other Tips to Protect Yourself
In addition to knowing how the IRS contacts taxpayers and requests payments, along with knowing the red flags to look out for, there are other steps you can take to protect yourself from tax scams as you prepare to file this year. Filing your taxes as early as possible is one of the best ways you can protect yourself from tax scams. Tax scammers often strike early, and will file false returns using stolen Social Security Numbers before most people get around to filing their own returns. The targeted taxpayers are none the wiser until they attempt to file their own taxes, and are then informed that a return has already been filed in their name, and the refund has then already been collected by a scammer. You are safer filing your taxes as soon as you are able. If you are filing your taxes online, be sure that you are using a secure computer and network, such as your personal computer on your home network rather than a public computer or public Wi-Fi. Using a public device or network allows fraudsters to easily steal data that is transmitted. If you use a tax preparation service or software online, be sure you are using a strong password, and enable multi-factor authentication whenever available. Multi-factor authentication adds another level of security when logging into your account, making it more difficult for a scammer to access your information. Finally, if you use a tax preparer, make sure to select a legitimate one. If they make promises of an unusually large return, especially without having reviewed your finances, that is a red flag of a scam artist. Review the credentials of any tax preparer you are considering and ask for references before making any decisions. The IRS provides a Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers that you can use to find a credible tax preparer in your area.
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