Surefire Tips to Stop Scams During Tax Season
Filing your taxes is always a busy time of year. At this point, your employer and any entities with programs that can be included on your return should be sending tax documents. For some, this is an event that people want to finish quickly—for others, it’s time to roll up their sleeves and find every possible deduction.
Unfortunately, tax season is also the time of year when scammers may try to take advantage of others’ hard work. Fraudsters will do everything possible to take sensitive information and con people out of their money. Falling for these scams can do more than cheat you financially; they can also open the door to additional fraud.
With how busy tax season can get, it is crucial to remain vigilant against scams and fraud. Here’s a quick primer on tax scams and how to fight back.
How the IRS Contacts Taxpayers
According to their official website, the Internal Revenue Service only contacts taxpayers through specific channels. The primary form of communication from the IRS is mail delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS).
The IRS would only try to contact a taxpayer through other means if there are extenuating circumstances. A taxpayer might receive a phone call or visit from an agent if:
- They have an overdue bill
- They have a delinquent (unified) tax return
- They haven’t made an employment tax deposit
Even then, the IRS would send multiple notices through the mail before calling or making a visit. Knowing this, you can deduce that getting correspondence from the IRS is not spontaneous.
Generally speaking, tax officials will give sufficient notice before contacting you beyond the mail. The only possible exception would be if a taxpayer were investigated for criminal activity.
Now that you know how the IRS conducts official business, it’s time to learn how scammers might impersonate government officials.
How Tax Scammers Try to Trick People
Do you remember our overview of common scams? During tax season, fraudsters will try tricking you by posing as an authority and using intimidation tactics to get you to act quickly. Thieves want to take advantage of the inherent confusion behind filing taxes to get you to surrender money or sensitive information.
Scammers often adopt the same tactics during tax season as any other time of year. All in all, the primary attack vector of a tax scammer is “phishing,” the practice of tricking people into surrendering sensitive information by posing as something else.
Common avenues for phishing include:
- Phone Calls
- Voice Messages
- Direct Messaging
There’s a particular spin on tax scams, however. Fraudsters will try to pose as government officials or tax professionals or even claim to be from a tax relief charity to ensnare victims.
All in all, tax scams are particularly nefarious since they are emotionally manipulative by nature. They try to exploit people’s notions of taxation, the anxiety that stems from filing, and even fears of breaking the law.
Spotting Scams During Tax Season
Tax scams come in many forms, and thieves always try to find different ways to trick others. As technology changes, these methods have only become more sophisticated. However, if you know how to spot these scams, they become easier to avoid.
Tax scams have common characteristics. Look out for these telltale signs of a fraudster:
- You’re getting correspondence that isn’t the mail. Remember: the IRS and government officials will never try to call, email, or text you about your return or payment first. They always go through the USPS.
- You’re getting threatened with an arrest, criminal charges, or punishment. Taxation can be a high-pressure time since filing a return incorrectly can result in fines and even criminal penalties. Scammers take advantage of these fears by threatening to arrest you or file charges.
- You’re being told to act immediately. Scammers rely on sowing a sense of urgency in their victims. You might get calls or emails saying you have to “take action now” to prevent something bad from happening in the future.
- You’re getting offered some form of relief or seem to qualify for an official-sounding program. Although legitimate organizations exist that help people with filing taxes or applying for debt relief, they rarely try to make unprompted solicitations.
- You’re getting pressured to make payments or “verify information.” Scammers might send you a form and ask you to provide sensitive information or even make a payment on the spot. They might even try to get you to pay in a specific way, like submitting gift card codes or paying in cryptocurrency.
The IRS has resources that describe the many ways fraudsters try to imitate their agents. You can view other tax scams on their website.
Fighting Back Against Fraud
You are the most effective line of defense against all forms of fraud. Here’s what you can do to protect your information and your finances.
- Learn to say “No.” Even the craftiest fraudster would have difficulty stealing from someone who knows how to hang up, delete messages, and block senders. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Make a habit of being skeptical of unsolicited communications.
- It helps to know what to do if you have been targeted for a tax scam. The IRS has resources for reporting impersonators. You can also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Stay in the know about new scams as they develop. Your local news station may provide updates on tax scams as the federal deadline approaches.
On top of that, First Florida Credit Union has resources on how to protect your identity and finances. Visit the Scam and Fraud Education (S.A.F.E.) page to learn about scams and what you can do to help.