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Home / Tips and Tricks / Tax scams still pose a risk after you file your tax return. Important details and how to protect yourself

Tax scams still pose a risk after you file your tax return. Important details and how to protect yourself



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Tax season means an attack of tax scams to deceive you.

Angela Lang / CNET

Tax day 2021 is coming. You may have already filed your taxes, as the IRS has been accepting returns since Feb. 12. While you relax a bit and start to check your refund status, don’t be too complacent. Fraudsters are still hard at work defrauding or misleading tax files from their personal information and refunds.

Sending spam text messages with links to phishing websites and using automated robocalls in an attempt to trick you into submitting personal information is just part of what these bad actors will try

The IRS takes tax fraud and scams seriously and does its best to warn us. In fact, there is an entire section of the IRS website dedicated to providing warnings about popular scams and strategies for staying out of the scammers’ crosshairs.

Here’s a shortlist of some of the most common scams out there – and what you can do to keep both your identity and your tax return safe, including reporting the trick to the IRS.

Read more: Best Tax Software for 2021: TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer, and more


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1. The fake IRS phone call

How it works: One of the most brutal schemes used every year is scammers who call and claim to represent the IRS to taxpayers and demand an immediate tax payment. If you call from a phone number that appears to belong to the IRS on your caller ID, they will threaten, harass, and intimidate you into making a hasty decision. Usually they often ask for a transfer via gift card or bank transfer. Thieves are increasingly extending this scheme to email and social media channels.

How to Protect Yourself: Know that the IRS will never call you or come to your home to demand immediate payment – especially by gift card or bank transfer. While debt collection agencies have been known to get pushy, an IRS representative should never denounce, abuse, or threaten to bring in the law or immigration authorities.

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Tax fraud can take place in various ways, including over the phone.

Patrick Holland / CNET

When someone claiming to work for the IRS calls you, the IRS tells you to write down the number from which you received the call, the name of the caller, and then hang up. You can then call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov/balancedue to view your account.

Report a scam phone call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by calling 1-800-366-4484 or at tigta.gov. You can also call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit ftc.gov/complaint.

2. The surprising bait-and-change

How it works: In the words of the IRS, this is a “new spin on an old scam”. After criminals secure your sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers and tax forms, they can easily file a fraudulent return on your behalf.

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The IRS has issued several warnings and warnings about common scams that all want to take your money.

James Martin / CNET

Once the money is deposited into your bank account, the scammers, posing as someone from the IRS or a debt collection agency, will contact you to demand the return of the ill-gotten money – either by depositing it into an account or by sending it to an address.

How to Protect Yourself: Be on the lookout for an unexpected tax bill, refund, or messages from the IRS or your tax advisor about multiple returns filed with your Social Security number. If you get a false refund, don’t go out and make a big purchase – the IRS wants its money back.

If you suspect you are a victim, file a complaint with the FTC. Ask the major credit bureaus to post a “fraud alert” on your file and contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490.

3. Cancel or suspend your social security number

How it works: Criminals call and threaten to suspend or cancel your Social Security number until your back taxes are paid. The scam may seem legitimate because the caller has some of your personal information, including the last four digits of your SSN. But as the IRS puts it, “Make no mistake … it’s a scam.”

This is an example of one of the SMS phishing messages claiming to be from Bank of America.

Phishing attacks are an easy way to obtain information about you and, in turn, access your online accounts or tax information.

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How to Protect Yourself: If someone calls and threatens to cancel or suspend your Social Security Number, hang up immediately. If they call back, don’t answer. Write down the number and report the call on this site, and send an email with the subject “IRS Phone Scam” to phishing@irs.gov and include the phone number and any other relevant details in the body of the email.

If you owe taxes, you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to discuss your payment options. Your social security number will not be canceled or suspended.

4. False texts, emails or messages on social media

How it works: Thieves took years to fine-tune their email trick and recently expanded to include text messages and social media posts. Phishing has become much more sophisticated, with incredibly authentic-looking messages sent from credible-looking addresses leading victims to share sensitive information or install malware.

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Fake text messages with links to unsafe websites are on the rise.

Josh Miller / CNET

A particularly risky bet is that scammers use the IRS name and logo to warn taxpayers of the scams they are committing, before asking for sensitive personal information. Note that attackers are increasingly targeting tax professionals than taxpayers.

How to Protect Yourself: Be on the lookout for any communications you receive via email, text, or social media claiming to be the IRS, a tax professional, or other financial organization. Again, the real IRS will never reach out to request personal or financial information.

If you receive such a message, the IRS will ask you to forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Do not reply to the original message.

Scammers’ tactics are always evolving

The IRS has a special tax scam web page where the agency publishes warnings and updates about the current scams being used. Additional scams the IRS warns about include “ ghost taxers ” who charge someone to pay their taxes, often based on a large refund amount, and then fail to send the tax return – leaving the client with an un-filed tax return and no refund.

There is also a tax statement scam warning targeting businesses with an Emotet malware-infected file attachment.

The biggest takeaway is this: If the IRS needs anything from you, you’ll receive a letter in the mail. You will not receive an email, phone call or text message. Still, letters can be forged, so it’s best to use only official IRS websites and phone numbers.

In addition to preventing your tax information from being compromised, it’s also a good idea to use a password manager, use two-factor authentication where possible and learn how to identify robocalls


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