According to government organizations and security experts that often write about cyber security issues, tax season is when scam risk is at an all-time high. And it does not matter whether you are an individual user or a company. There are a lot of methods and means at the disposition of scammers, and they can use it all to lure out your money and your personal information. It is expected that in 2018, regular users and businesses will be targeted by scammers even more, and government organizations along with security professionals are trying their best to inform users about all the potential risks.
Type of Tax Scams
There are certain types of scams that are used by criminals to trick unsuspecting users. Therefore, the Internet Revenue Service strives to emphasize that their staff never contact taxpayers via text messages, social media or email. They never ask you to provide your personal information via unsafe channels, so you can be sure that if anyone tries to obtain your personal information in such ways, it is most probably a scam.
Perhaps the biggest amount of scam reports come from the taxpayers who get affected by telephone scams. This is a very common type of scam, and it is used by almost any scammer in the world: It is not limited only to the tax scammers. It is not clear whether the scammers know who their victims are or whether they simply rely on luck, but it is certain that they tend to target the most vulnerable groups. According to the IRS, lately, scammers tend to target recent immigrants because they might not be informed enough about the basics of filing their taxes.
What’s more, they tend to approach the victims using their native languages, making it more believable. Scammers go as far as threatening their victims with arrest or deportation if they do not pay what they own to the IRS immediately. Of course, that is not the case, and the IRS would never contact the taxpayers like that. In some cases, they might also contact people via video relay services (VRS), which shows that they are also targeting taxpayers with hearing disabilities. Such tactics are very cynical, and there is nothing humane about these criminals, so users should forget about getting their money back if they get scammed.
A Wide Range of Victims
It is not just regular taxpayers who get targeted by scammers. When organized scam syndicates go in for a kill, they usually take on tax professionals with the intention to steal personal information. They need personal data to file for fake tax returns, so tax professionals who help regular citizens file their taxes have been urged to take a number of security measures to avoid this personal data leak.
For the most part, scams that aim to exploit tax professionals are related to the tax filing software that they use. Hence, it is important to avoid bogus emails and other measures that attempt to steal data from software accounts or make people download fake software that would later on leak important information.
W-2 from Hell
The form W-2 phishing scam was already making rounds last year, so it would not be surprising it if reemerged in 2018 again. That is why the IRS mentions W-2 in their security reminder as well. It also says that not it will be a lot easier to report data loss related to the form. Aside from that, security experts say that if your social security number was stolen, you can (and should) submit an Identity Theft Affidavit. Perhaps the most annoying part of this is that with your identity stolen, you will no longer be able to submit your taxes online. But the IRS suggests that you file your taxes by paper if you must.
Now, how does this W-2 scam usually work? The scammers contact the human resources departments of various businesses through fake email messages, saying that they need information about their employee W-2 forms. That information usually includes the Social Security Number, salary, and home address. If the human resources department falls for this scam, the criminals can get their hands on a lot of sensitive information, which eventually results in tax frauds or selling the information on Dark Web.
Taxpayer Advocacy Panel
The most common method of tax scam is phishing. It means that scammers send out emails that look like they are from the IRS or any other government organization. The emails are supposed to make the taxpayers think that they have been contacted by the official organization, and now they must do everything this organization says. Needless to say, such emails usually require people provide their personal information or other types of sensitive data. Once again, we would like to emphasize that the IRS DOES NOT ask for personal information via such methods.
What’s more, some scammers also pretend to be the representatives of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel. They send out emails that supposedly inform users about their tax refunds, but this the Tax Advocacy Panel does NOT send out such emails, so you should never click anything in such message. Also, if you think that you have been targeted by tax fraud scammers, you can always report the phishing attempts to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration via 800-366-4484 (or forward the email messages to firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also find more information on how to protect yourself from tax scams at the IRS website (see the references list below this article).
Safety Comes First
Needless to say, such risks should not stop you from filing your taxes. You just need to be more careful about it. Bear in mind that you might receive a lot of email messages urging you to provide your Social Security Number of your salary information. All of these emails can be reported to the authorities. On top of that, the phone phishing attacks might be at the all-time high, so you have to be wary of calls and even text messages that urge you to pay something to the IRS. Finally, if you are not sure and you want to check the details, you can always contact the local offices, and they will tell you everything for sure.
In non-techie terms:
When you file in your tax reports, please be sure to use only the official tools and forms. With the tax seasons, security experts expect the tax scams to be very common. Hence, if someone asks you to provide your personal information via email or a phone call, you should refrain from doing so. Government organizations do not require taxpayers to provide their social security numbers and other sensitive data via emails or phone calls. Therefore, if you receive such requests, they are most probably from scammers, especially if you are a recent immigrant and the messages reach you in your native language.
- IRS. Tax Scams / Consumer Alerts. The Internal Revenue Service.
- Reema Khrais. Thanks to Equifax, the risk of fraud is higher this tax season. MarketPlace.
- Brian Krebs. File Your Taxes Before Scammers Do It For You. Krebs on Security.
- Kathy Kristof. IRS warns tax preparers about a new refund scam. CBS News.
- Kelly Phillips Erb. As Tax Season Opens, IRS Issues Reminders About W-2 Identity Theft Scam. Forbes.