By Kelly Martin Papai, Compliance Officer & Risk Manager
“File tax returns” might be lingering on your to-do list, but scammers are already seizing tax season. The first step to protecting your identity — and the tax refund you might be expecting — is knowing how the fraudsters operate.
How do tax scams work?
People commit tax refund fraud by filing tax returns under another person’s name and Social Security number. They hope to capture your refund before you’ve even thought about filing your return. Fraudsters obtain personal information through identity theft, security breaches, and intimidating phone, text, email and mail scams. Stay alert to signs of a scam.
Be wary of phone calls
If you receive a phone call (or robocall) from someone claiming to be from the IRS, be wary - especially if they demand immediate payment or threaten to bring in law enforcement. The caller might even give you an IRS badge number or have information about you. Don’t be persuaded. The IRS:
- Won’t ask for personal information by phone.
- Won’t threaten to bring in the local police, FBI or immigration officers.
- Never demands payment by wire transfer, debit cards or gift cards.
- Can’t take away your driver’s license, immigration status or business licenses.
- Can’t suspend or cancel your Social Security Number.
Those are all common scare tactics scammers use to steal your information. The IRS only calls in certain cases, and only after mailing you several “notices” first. If the IRS audits you, they will mail you a letter first and only call to set up an appointment.
Ignore texts that claim to be from the IRS
The IRS will not text you. If you get a text claiming to be from the IRS do not reply or click on any links. It’s a scam.
Don’t reply to or click links in an email
Email scams are getting more convincing. The IRS logo and wording might look and sound real, but the IRS will not initiate email communication with you.
Email scams might:
- Entice you to share personal information.
- Have links that take you to a cloned website that looks like the IRS website (but isn’t).
- Have links that install malware on your computer to access files, personal information and track your keystrokes.
- Lure you in by saying you’re owed or need to claim a refund.
If you get a suspicious email, report phishing to the IRS.
Pay close attention to mail
“Snail mail” is the first line of communication for the IRS. Some criminals assume you know this and attempt mail scams. How can you tell if the letter or notice is from the IRS or a criminal?
- If the letter is from the Bureau of Tax Enforcement, it’s fake. There’s no such thing.
- If the letter asks you to make a check out to the IRS, it’s fake. Checks to the IRS are made out to the United States Treasury.
- If the letter tells you to pay now and dispute it later, it’s fake. The IRS will always tell you how to make a dispute before you pay.
You can call the IRS at 800-829-1040 if you want to verify whether a letter or notice is real.
Watch out for ghosts
“Ghost” tax preparers may reach out to you by phone, text, email or mail. They’re frauds who pose as tax professionals. They charge you to prepare your tax return and often lie on returns, apply tax credits you don’t qualify for or make changes that can get you in trouble.
You can spot a ghost because they don’t sign your return. If you file it, it looks like you prepared the return yourself and you’ll be liable for any mistakes.
If you need help preparing your tax returns, visit a reputable tax preparation company or certified public accountant (CPA). Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations and check credentials.
Check the IRS list of schemes and signs your identity is at risk
The IRS tracks all sorts of scams. You can check the list to see if any sound familiar or to know how to recognize a scam if one comes calling. Learn the signs of tax-related identity theft and what to do if it happens to you.
Learn more about tax refund fraud
For more information about fraud and ID theft, you can visit the Security Corner on the Cinfed website, which offers a variety of helpful resources. You can also schedule an appointment at your local Cinfed branch to talk with one of our financial coaches to answer questions or concerns about tax refund fraud.