How to Avoid Common and Uncommon Scams During Tax Season
Spring is in the air and along with those who are avidly looking forward to cleaning, this is also the arrival of tax season. This is a time when scammers and hackers are targeting your finances using the internet and other tactics as a weapon. Don't be a victim of the many common (and not so common) ways hackers are attacking unsuspecting taxpayers. Whether you're expecting a refund or owe money to Uncle Sam, you're still a target for these black hat, shady online crooks, but there are ways to stop them dead in their tracks.
Understanding Your Opponent and Their Underhanded Methods
Almost always hiding behind a screen, using a phony identity that often appears realistic at first glance, these thugs use the same tricks and tactics during tax season as they do the rest of the year. Many people say the best defense is a good offense so having an understanding of your opponent and their underhanded methods is one of the best ways to avoid being tackled and sacked by their scams:
- Phishing: Similar to how it sounds, phishing casts out emails or uses malicious malware on sketchy websites to trick you into disclosing your personal information. While they often look legit coming from an official financial institution, charitable organization, or government agency (like the IRS), if users look carefully, the address and other identifying information are actually bogus.
- Phone Calls: Again, with caller ID tricks, a phone call might appear to be coming from an IRS agent either advising you of a refund or demanding your make an overdue payment, but both of these types of communications are completely false.
- Recalculated Refund: At the other end of one of these conversations, you might hear, "The IRS has recalculated your refund... Congratulations... we owe you additional funds. Please verify your account information so we can make a deposit."
- Verification Scams: As previously mentioned, verification scams are common looking for unsuspecting users to confirm (aka divulge) their personal information usually online.
Part of the bottom line here is the fact unsolicited communication is nearly identical to a prank phone call from the past with unwanted information. In other words, the IRS doesn't have the time or staff to create or send out these random messages. Basically, if it sounds too good to be true or if the tone is threatening in some way, it's likely to be bogus.
Understanding How The IRS Operates
It's very important at this point to know and understand exactly what the IRS does (and doesn't) do in their daily duties. For example, neither the IRS nor any other government agency or business will accept gift cards for payment against any type of debt. Many scammers will offer a deep discount if this amount is paid immediately using this sketchy method.
Typically speaking, the IRS uses the official US Mail when communicating with taxpayers. However, if an agent shows up at your door the IRS themselves recommend you verify their identity since they carry at least two forms of identification along with their official credentials. Taxpayers are encouraged to verify it's really the IRS that's knocking on your door online (or calling).
BONUS: Remember the IRS won't contact you via an unsolicited email message, an obscure text, or through social media networks. It also doesn't advertise on any websites including their own unless they're offering posted help and information about resources available to taxpayers.
Beware of Red Flags
Even if you've already avoided these common tax scams, these cyber creeps are still using other methods of obtaining your sensitive information through other types of data breaches coming from those you do business with or an employer. Watch out for these top three warning signs that you might already be a victim of a hack or an attempt at stealing your identity because you:
- Already filed a tax return online (or by mail) and are informed by the IRS (or your state) that they already received one
- Have been informed by the IRS that an account was registered for you at their official website IRS.gov because you didn't create one
- Received a transcript or other documents from the IRS that you didn't request it (or them)
Protect Yourself and Others From Potential Attacks
It's best to implement some basic protective measures when we're especially vulnerable online like avoiding using public Wi-Fi services when performing sensitive practices like filing tax returns. Other ways to reduce risks include...
- Not sharing your SSN or tax documentation with unknown parties.
- Keeping an eye on your credit report during tax season.
- If you are being rushed, be cautious. Scammers may use a sense of urgency to rush you into giving them your private information.
- Not opening attachments or links in emails that seem sketchy.
- Not allowing someone remote access to your computer.
If you think you're already a victim or target of Identity Theft, don't let it go unreported or unrecognized. The more of these crimes that are revealed, the better officials are able to arm themselves with information to thwart these attempts today and in the future. For instance, if you believe you have been compromised, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report it and create a recovery plan. Or for more specific information and resources for tax-related identity theft, visit the Identity Theft Central web page on the official IRS website.
If you still have questions about cybersecurity and other scary matters when it comes to using today's technology, please reach out to the Brainiac Team at BB right away. Our knowledgeable staff of self-proclaimed techno nerds is always here to help. Along with live support via phone and available on the internet, be sure to check out our extensive line of help topics we have available online. You'll be able to trust that these sites are secure and our internet services offer the best in protection when it comes to online safety.