Tax season may be over, but for many criminals, it’s open season for scamming.
You might have breathed a sigh of relief once Tax Day ended in April. However, your financial worries may not be over if you fall victim to an IRS scam. This is actually one of the more popular times for tax-related scams to occur, as many taxpayers are waiting to hear back from the agency. The IRS warns that consumers should be on the lookout for phishing emails and phone scams that aim to swindle them out of their hard-earned money.
Although the IRS carries out three different types of audits — correspondence, office, and field — they will first notify you via mail only of a problem with your taxes. They will never email you or contact you via phone from the onset, nor will they ask for personal identifying information or bully you into paying supposed back taxes this way (especially not with prepaid gift cards). Scammers may try to use fear and intimidation in demand-for-payment calls, threatening arrest or deportation if you refuse to pay your “debt” via wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. Don’t fall for prerecorded messages left on your voicemail, either.
Scammers may also pose as callers from a taxpayer assistance center. These are especially scary because these criminals actually do what’s called “spoofing” legitimate phone numbers, essentially taking on the identity of a legitimate agency or individual to avoid detection. Scammers have even spoofed local sheriff’s office phone numbers and DMV numbers in the past, making it impossible to verify whether the call is actually coming from where your caller ID says it is. Here’s how to know whether this type of call is legit: TAC offices provide in-person assistance for taxpayers, but they will never place direct phone calls to you.
Scammers have been known to send fake forms through the mail as well, which can make it tough for taxpayers to tell whether the correspondence they’re receiving is real. They send a fake W-8BEN form and an accompanying letter referring to a W9095, which doesn’t actually exist. The message tells you that you may be exempt from withholding and reporting income tax, which is merely a scam to get you to give them your personal information.
And then, of course, there are the email phishing schemes. The scammers claim to be from the IRS or an affiliated program, with the email prompting you to click on a link and provide information. The IRS will never initiate contact with you via email to request financial or personal information — and as a rule, you should always be cautious about clicking any links you don’t recognize. If you want to verify whether a message you’ve received is actually from the IRS, you should not engage with the party that contacted you first. Instead, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 or check this site to learn how to report suspected fraudulent activity.
Now, it looks like even those who are most knowledgeable about the Internal Revenue Service might be at risk. Though IRS scams are certainly nothing new, the agency is now warning tax preparers that they may be targeted just as often as taxpayers are. The IRS has recently received reports from tax professionals who have received fake scam emails that tried to trick them into providing email usernames and passwords. Thus far, tax professionals in New Jersey, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, and even Canada have been targeted, but there could be more attempts made in the future.
The recently circulating scam is an “awkwardly worded phishing email” that reads:
“We kindly request that you follow this link HERE and sign in with your email to view this information from [name of accounting association] to all active members. This announcement has been updated for your kind information through our secure information sharing portal which is linked to your email server.”
If a tax preparer were to click on the link, they could be redirected to a malware site or could have their information stolen to access their accounts. A similar scheme circulated last year that impersonated tax software providers in an attempt to steal usernames and passwords. Although 58% of all businesses are worried about cyber attacks, this type of brazen thievery could be disastrous for any firm and their clients — making it necessary for tax preparers to remain vigilant about the emails they open and the links they click.
This also shows how important it is to go directly to the original source, rather than assuming that a phone call or an email is actually reliable. The IRS also adds that you can forward any suspicious email related to their agency or to taxes to firstname.lastname@example.org.