3 Common Tax Scams and How to Avoid Them

Posted on: February 18, 2018 | By: Elizabeth Kirkhorn | Filed under: Info Security, Online Safety Tips

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According to the IRS, thousands of people have had their personal information (and sometimes money) stolen as a result of a tax scam. These scams, also known as “phishing schemes,” try to trick people into sharing their personal information by pretending to be an official organization, such as the IRS. While you may think that you’re not at risk, if you possess a phone, an email address, or receive mail, you too could fall victim to a tax scam. Today, we’ll share a few ways you can detect common phishing schemes and keep your personal information safe this tax season.

There are several ways that scammers may contact you when trying to phish for personal information. Stay alert and familiarize yourself with some of the most common ways scammers may reach out:

  1. Threatening phone calls claiming you owe back taxes, or threatening arrest if you do not pay.
  2. Fraudulent emails phishing for personal information, pin numbers, and other data.
  3. Scam letters sent directly to your home.

Keep in mind that the IRS does not initiate unsolicited contact with taxpayers so follow the tips below to detect a scam before giving out your information.


What to do when a scammer contacts you via phone:

The majority of reported scam attempts via phone calls follow a predictable pattern. First, the scammer leaves a voicemail, often with poor sound quality, informing a recipient that they are being issued a “final notice” from the IRS about a late payment. The recipient is prompted to call back, and if they do, they will be connected with someone who threatens arrest if they do not receive payment. The callers often use false names and fake IRS employee identification numbers to make themselves seem legitimate, so be wary.

Scammers may also request an unusual form of payment, such as an iTunes gift card, which serves as an untraceable currency. According to NBC, 70% of victims were asked to pay this way, but keep in mind that the IRS never accepts unusual forms of payment.

If you suspect that you may have received a fraudulent pre-recorded message, do not call back. Know that the authentic IRS would never contact you in this way, ask for credit information over the phone, or accept an unusual form of currency. Also, be aware that the scammer may have gathered information on you from the internet to make themselves seem more legitimate. Just because they are aware of your home address or other forms of contact, does not necessarily mean they are from the IRS.


How to detect a scam via email or physical mail:

Another way you may be contacted by a scammer is via email or physical mail. The correspondence you receive will be designed to look like official communication from the IRS and ask for information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts, or verifying PIN information. The IRS does not request this kind of information via email or physical mail, so if you’re unsure about the legitimacy of such a request, always contact the IRS directly for verification. 

Scam emails will appear to be sent from an @irs.gov account because the scammer has faked their email address, so don’t trust an email solely on the appearance of the sender’s contact information. Additionally, misspellings and grammar mistakes could indicate that you have been contacted by a scammer. 


Spotting an IRS email scam

Use these quick tips to help you spot an IRS email scam.


Tips for staying safe during tax season:

In addition to not sharing personal information with a scammer via email, over the phone, or through physical mail, there are many other ways for you to stay safe this tax season. Check out some of our tips for combatting scammers and avoiding identity theft:

  • File your taxes early
    • If a scammer is able to obtain your Social Security number or other information, they will use this information to file fraudulent tax returns to the IRS and other tax authorities in order to receive your tax refund and other tax credits. By filing your taxes early, you decrease your risk of being scammed by limiting the window in which a criminal could obtain and utilize your information.
  • Use a secure wifi network
    • Make sure you are using a secure and private wifi network when completing actions related to paying your taxes, including checking your refund status and filing taxes yourself online. A hacker could gain access to your information if they are able to get on the same network as you by using a common man-in-the-middle attack.  Learn more about securing your home network.
  • Know what to expect
  • Choose a trusted tax preparer
    • Do your research before choosing a tax preparer. Ask yourself these questions before sharing your personal information with any tax preparer:
      • Do they have a website that looks up-to-date and professional?
      • Are their any reviews for this person online?
      • What are the preparer’s credentials?
      • Do they offer any guarantees if something is not filed correctly? 
  • Report suspicious contact
    • If you receive an email that you believe to be a scam, do not open any attachments or text that may be linked. Report the correspondence right away to the IRS. 


By following these tips, you can stay safe this tax season and ensure that your personal information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Learn more about preventing identity theft, cybersecurity, and more by following us on Twitter and by checking out more articles like this on the Technology Blog.






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