The government is back in business – just in time for the first day of tax season. The 2019 tax season is officially open, and despite it being a new year, the scams remain largely the same.
Whether you’re getting a jump on the season in hopes of processing an early return or just getting started with the filing process, it’s a good idea to brush up on popular tax scams and how to avoid them.
- The Fake Tax Returns: Identity thieves file a fake tax return and have the refund deposited into YOUR bank account. Then they’ll contact you by phone posing as the IRS or debt collectors from the IRS. They’ll demand you return the money – which actually gets sent to their accounts, not the IRS. In another version, you’ll get an automated call threatening you with criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant, and “blacklisting” of your social security number. Don’t take the bait! If you or someone you know gets an unexpected refund, follow the guidelines outlined by the IRS to return the funds to the agency.
- The Fake Tax Sites: In a different scheme, criminals use imposter tax preparation sites and phone numbers to steal peoples’ personal information. You go online and find a tax service to prepare and e-file as usual, but instead of landing on a legitimate site, you’re redirected to a look-alike site created by scammers. Some of these sites look incredibly real, and they’re set up to collect your personal information to commit fraud.
- The Fake Arrest Threat: This scam continues long after the date to file has passed. Thieves call you and say your taxes are wrong, missing, or fraudulent and threaten you with arrest if you don’t pay them. Think again before you succumb to their demands: these geniuses will usually request payment via gift cards or money transfer, something the IRS would never do.
The FTC recommends these tips to avoid being scammed:
- File early! The sooner you can confirm your legitimate tax return, the easier it will be to spot a fake return – and the harder it will be for a scammer to file on your behalf.
- Use a secure connection. Always use a secure internet connection when dealing with personal information. Make sure your home internet is locked down, and never use untrusted wifi connections in public. If you’re unable to use a secure connection when e-filing, mail your tax return directly from the post office.
- Look for the tax preparer ID number. When using an online service, look for the tax preparer identification number. The IRS requires all paid preparers to have one before filing any returns.
- Use an encrypted website. To determine if a website is encrypted, look for “https” at the start of the web address – the “s” is for secure. If any part of your session is not encrypted, your entire account could be vulnerable. Look for the https on every page you visit and not just when you sign in.
- Ask about data security. Don’t be afraid to ask your tax preparers about their data security policies, and how they protect your information. The more you know about their practices, the better peace of mind you’ll have about your returns.
- Respond to all mail from the IRS asap – that way, they can get ahead of any potential fraud. This is also a good time to remind you that the IRS connects via mail, not phone. If you get a call from the IRS, report it immediately as a potential scam.
- If tax identity theft happens to you, you can go to IdentityTheft.gov to report it to the FTC, file an ID Theft Affidavit with the IRS electronically, and get a personal recovery plan.
If you or someone you know gets one of these calls, make sure you report it to us in the PrivacyStar app. We report all of our numbers directly to the FTC, and your reports help the FTC and other law enforcement investigate scams and bring crooks to justice.