It’s that time of year again — tax filing season. Now that those W-2s and 1099s have arrived, so are the calls, emails, texts and sometimes mailings from scammers pretending to be from the IRS. These scammers will claim you owe money or there’s an issue with your return and they need you to confirm sensitive information, such as your Social Security number and date of birth. Don’t fall for these attempts to phish for your information or steal your hard-earned money.
The information in your tax return contains everything that a scam artist needs to steal your identity, file tax returns on your behalf, or even steal your refund. Be vigilant and never provide any sensitive information over the telephone. Many of us are aware of the scam calls claiming to be from the IRS and telling consumers they’ll be arrested if they don’t submit payment over the phone via gift cards. The IRS will never make contact in this manner, not will they ever ask you to pay a tax debt by wiring the money or purchasing gift cards.
The good news is the federal government has made some progress in combating these scam calls. In recent years, some of these scam artists, many located on the other side of the world, have been arrested and extradited to the U.S. to face charges for their nefarious actions scamming consumers out of millions of dollars and impersonating federal government officials.
Always verify the legitimacy of a mailing, call, email or text message before taking any action requested in the message or clicking on any links. It’s best to go to the website for the agency the correspondence claims to be from and locate a legitimate number you can call to verify the authenticity. Unfortunately, in recent years, scammers have even attempted to send fraudulent mailings posing as the IRS using different return addresses to phish for personal information that can be used to steal your identity or file a fraudulent return and intercept a refund.
There are many scams related to tax filings and it helps to brush up on some of the most common ruses so you don’t fall victim. Below are some helpful tips to help avoid falling victim to a tax scam.
– The age old saying still rings true — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In the case of tax preparers, not all of them are legitimate and trustworthy. Some companies may make claims that you can file your taxes for free, but there may be some hidden fees or a half-truth and you’ll still have to pay for assistance filing your state return. Keep an eye out for misleading statements and always read the fine print.
– Never reply to emails requesting personal information claiming to be from the IRS, a previous tax preparer, bank or investment firm, as these can all be potential phishing attempts to steal your personal information to compromise your accounts. An email could claim they need to verify your information or you have to provide certain information to receive a tax form. This is almost always a scam. A simple way to check is to look at the full email address the message came from, not simply the display name they can choose to display. Hover over the name and it will show the full email. If the message didn’t come from a legitimate .gov email or the trusted email domain you’ve seen on other messages from your bank or financial institution, don’t reply and reach out to a trusted number you obtain for these agencies or companies, not any number listed in an email which could be directing you to a scammer.
– Avoid ghost tax preparers. All legitimate tax preparers will have a PTIN or Preparer Tax Identification Number, and they must sign your return as the preparer. If they attempt to not sign off on the preparers section taking ownership of their assistance with the completion of your return, that is a red flag that you may be dealing with a ghost tax preparer and the likelihood of inaccuracies or issues with your return could be higher.
The Bucks County Office of Consumer Protection can be reached at 215-348-6060. Visit buckscounty.gov/CrimesAgainstOlderAdults for more information, or call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-490-8505.