While IRS imposter scams happen year-round, they are particularly prevalent during tax season and in times of crisis (ex: scams related to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic). These imposter scams can lead to tax fraud and identity theft -- here's how to identify and avoid them.
SCAM #1: PHISHING
Phishing is an attempt to obtain sensitive information or payment (usernames, passwords, account details, etc.) by scammers impersonating a reputable company -- in this case, the IRS. Once these credentials are acquired, scammers can use the information to withdraw money from your accounts, apply for benefits/other accounts in your name, and much more. Be on the lookout for fake IRS emails that want you to input private information to collect a tax refund or a pandemic stimulus payment, pay overdue taxes, or apply for benefits.
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB: The IRS will never email you or text you to discuss tax debts or refunds. The IRS may call you to set up an appointment, but they won't do so without sending you a letter first.
If you receive an unsolicited email claiming to be the IRS, do not reply, click any links, or open any attachments. By doing so, you may be unknowingly installing malicious software onto your device. *IF YOU RECEIVE AN EMAIL FROM THE "IRS," DON'T EVEN CLICK ON IT... IT IS NOT THE IRS*
Do not provide any personal information in response to an email or a text (or through any digital communication)
SCAM #2: FRAUDULENT PHONE CALLS
Scammers who are claiming to be the IRS will often call saying you owe taxes. They demand you pay this bill through a gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer. They may also call saying that you are eligible to receive COVID-related benefits, and will ask for personal account information in order to send the payment. Here's how to tell if you're dealing with a scammer:
They demand immediate payment and will often offer to assist you in sending this payment
They use aggressive tactics (scare tactics) that are extremely threatening in nature. They may threaten arrest, deportation, or license revocation
They request any account numbers (debit, credit, or bank account)
SCAM #3: IDENTITY THEFT
Scammers can steal your personal information for illegal, fraudulent activities, like filing a tax return in your name. A growing scam involves criminals stealing client data from tax professionals, or by obtaining your tax software login information to file a tax return and have it deposited into a bank account (that isn't yours). Here's how to avoid this scam:
Use a unique name/password for tax filing software, and update it annually
Do not share your Social Security number with others unless absolutely necessary
Shred any sensitive documents when you discard them
Review your credit report every year to confirm the list of credit accounts is accurate
If you fall for a tax scam, do not panic. Report identity theft to IdentityTheft.gov. If your Social Security number is stolen, contact the IRS immediately. You can also file a complaint at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/assistant.
Stay vigilant, stay aware, stay safe.