Avoiding Scams This Tax Season: #StaySecure
Spring is just around the corner. With it comes the promise of warm weather, longer days and of course tax season. While preparing and filing your taxes this year, it’s important to be cautious of scams that threaten your financial wellbeing. Scammers are always looking at ways to attain your personal and financial information, including through your tax records.
How it works:
Scammers are quick to evolve their tactics as security and technology progresses. Last year, we began seeing fraudulent tax returns being filed, and this year it appears to be no different as thieves have created a new way to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. There are numerous ways it can start but it boils down to thieves gaining access to sensitive information like social security numbers, bank account numbers and even birthdates. With that information, they can file fake tax returns in the victim’s name or even pressure the victim to send them money directly.
How they get your information:
Today’s thieves are smart and very good at exploiting your honesty and general kind nature. Gaining access to just a small piece of your personal information can go a long way, and there are numerous ways they can attain it. Thieves can send an email that looks like it came from a family member or hijack your best friend’s social network account. This year in particular, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued a warning of callers claiming to be IRS employees, using fake names and false IRS identification. They often seem legitimate because they may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
Victims can be told that they owe money back to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through wire transfer, checks or cash, or request a credit or debit card number. The callers in some cases may become aggressive and threaten with arrest, or suspension of a business or driver’s license to scare the victim. In other cases, victims may also be told they have a refund due, but the scammer will try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an urgent callback request.
If you or someone you know has been communicated with in this manner, be sure to notify local authorities in addition to contacting your bank to ensure your account is secure and has not been compromised.
How to prevent it:
Filing early is the easiest way to help prevent this, as it significantly reduces the risk of having a fraudulent return filed before your own. But if you are reading this and haven’t filed – think about filing early next year.
In general, a good practice is to always be cautious. Especially when responding to any email or social network message that requests any account numbers or confidential information. Even if the message is asking for less confidential and more personal information, don’t trust it, as today many establishments require personal questions, unique to you, for entry to accounts. Don’t immediately trust phone calls or text messages from unknown origins requesting anything remotely personal. Thieves can research your purchases or donations and then pose as a business or charity you trust. Or, they may pose as law enforcement or other trusted figures. Even if they have pieces of information that seem authentic, it doesn’t mean they are legitimate.