How to Avoid Tax Scams and Identity Theft

This is National Tax Security Awareness Week  and the Better Business Bureau has suggestions for how consumers can keep their tax information secure and avoid tax-related scams.

In 2017, BBB received approximately 3,500 reports to their Scam Tracker from consumers regarding con artists claiming to be with the IRS. This comprised nearly 7% of all Scam Tracker reports received in 2017.

The scams tend to rely on tactics such as intimidation, threats, isolation, and/or pressure to act quickly.

Tax collection scams often employ all four to bully their targets into compliance.

Be aware of these “red flags” to help avoid becoming the victim of a tax scam:

  • You are pressured to act quickly. Scammers typically try to push you into action before you have time to think. Scammers will also threaten your arrest and insist you do not speak with any family members about the supposed tax issue.
  • You are prompted to pay by wire transfer or prepaid debit card. These methods are largely untraceable and non-reversible. The IRS will never call and demand immediate payment via wire transfer, gift card, or prepaid debit card.
  • You receive a call and not a letter first. The IRS will always send written communication first. If you receive a call or email before an official letter, it’s probably a scam. If someone calls you claiming to be the IRS, you can always hang up and contact them directly at 1-800-829-1040 to verify legitimacy.

Tax Identity Theft
Identity theft is also particularly prevalent during tax filing season. This occurs when a scammer uses your social security number to file a tax return in your name and collects your refund. It can also be someone using your information to get a job.

Consumers usually aren’t aware they have been victims of identity theft until they get a written notice from the IRS stating more than one tax return was filed, or that they were paid by an employer they haven’t worked for.

BBB offers the following tips to help prevent tax identity theft:

  • Complete your return as soon as you can. Scammers usually file fast so they can beat the real taxpayer and get the refund.
  • Protect your privacy. Throughout the year, understand why you are being asked for your personal information and question why it is needed. Committing to good data privacy habits can help protect you from a financial loss.
  • Keep your devices up to date. Run software updates and virus checks regularly on your computer and mobile device. This will keep the security up to date. Also use strong passwords for any online accounts.
  • Identify fake communications. Never give out personal information over the phone. Avoid opening emails or clicking on links sent to you by unknown sources. Be especially cautious of anyone who threatens you or claims you must act immediately.