This year’s tax season is getting under way. It’s that time of year when people’s thoughts turn to settling their tax obligations -- and crooks’ thoughts turn to stealing your money, your information and maybe your identity. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns that cyber crimes and tax scams ramp up during tax season.
How do cybercriminals get my personal data?
Perhaps the most common method that cybercriminals use to deceive people into divulging personal data such as banking and credit information, usernames and passwords, and other personal details is phishing and smishing. In a phishing scheme, a cybercriminal embeds malicious links or attachments in an email and tricks the recipient into clicking the link or opening the attachment. A smishing attack is similar to phishing, with links and sometimes attachments, except that the source is a Short Messaging Service (SMS) message, also known as a text message, received on a smartphone.
Clicking a link or opening an attachment in the email or text can infect a user’s device with malware that allows a criminal actor to access user information stored on the device, and may even allow the attacker to take complete control of the compromised system to use it as a launchpad for further criminal activity. Or clicking a link might take the user to a very real-looking but entirely fake IRS website that asks the user to log in using their username and password credentials to address a tax issue. With those credentials and other information easily found on the internet, the cybercriminal can access a taxpayer’s IRS account and redirect a legitimate tax refund or even file a fraudulent tax return on the victim’s behalf, directing the refund to the crook’s account or mailing address.
How do I recognize a scam IRS communication?
There are several telltale signs an email or text message is not genuinely from the IRS:
-- Initial contacts from the IRS arrive by U.S. Postal Service, not in emails or text messages
-- Communications from the IRS normally do not contain misspellings or grammatical errors
-- The IRS will not demand immediate payment or threaten to engage law enforcement if the recipient does not respond
-- Legitimate IRS representatives will not call unexpectedly about a tax refund
What other tax scams should I look out for?
The IRS offers information and help for dozens of tax scams at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts. Here are a few of the most common cons:
-- Callers may impersonate an IRS employee and tell their victims they owe the IRS money that must be paid promptly with a gift card or wire transfer. They may threaten to take legal or criminal action against the victim if they do not comply. Or they may tell their victims they are due tax refunds to trick them into sharing personal information.
-- Scammers may call claiming to be from the Social Security Administration and threaten to cancel or suspend a victim’s Social Security number if they do not resolve unpaid tax bills.
-- Beware of “ghost preparers” -- tax preparers who don’t sign the returns they prepare and may make false claims on returns or divert taxpayers’ funds to their own accounts.
What should I do if I receive a fraudulent IRS communication?
If you believe a communication that purports to be from the IRS is fraudulent:
-- Do not open it or any attachments or click on any links
-- Do not call any telephone numbers listed in the communication
-- In the case of a text message, forward the text message to the IRS at 202-552-1226
-- In the case of an email, forward it as an attachment to phishing@irs,gov
What should I do if I fall victim to an IRS tax scam?
If you believe you are the victim of a tax scam and have suffered a loss, have found an unauthorized or fake IRS website, or been contacted by someone falsely claiming to be from or representing the IRS, report it online to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration online at https://www.tigta.gov/reportcrime-misconduct, or by telephone at 800-366-4484.
A last note: one way to help prevent tax-related scams is with an IRS Identity Protection PIN. This is a 6-digit number set up with the IRS that helps to prevent identity theft and having someone else file a tax return using your Social Security number. To learn more and sign up for a PIN, go to https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/get-an-identity-protection-pin
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