It’s tax season and you know that means. More tax scams.
A neighbor recently reported that she received a phone call from someone stating she was from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The caller (let’s call her the scammer) said my neighbor was due a refund. However, the scammer needed a copy of her 2018 W2s to process the refund.
Thankfully, my neighbor recognized this as a scam and didn’t send the information.
When people fall for this scam, the scammers (let’s call them what they are – criminals) use it to file the person’s 2019 taxes and take the refund. The criminals get the money and the people that fall for the scam don’t realize it until they file their taxes. By that time, their money is long gone.
Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week
February 3 to 7 is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Many government agencies are using this time to educate people about tax scams.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched the Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week webpage. It has a lot of valuable resources and they have also scheduled webinars from Jan 29 to Feb 6.
They give the following basic advice to avoid identity theft through tax scams:
- Protect your SSN throughout the year. Don’t give it out unless there’s a good reason and you’re sure who you’re giving it to.
- File your tax return as early in the tax season as you can.
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.
- Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.
- Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com. Make sure no one has opened a new account in your name.
Tax Scams from the “IRS”
Another neighbor reported receiving five calls in a single day from the “IRS.” The criminal used neighbor spoofing techniques to make the call look like it was coming from a local IRS office. Each of the calls threatened to arrest her if she didn’t call back immediately. She ignored the calls. No, she wasn’t arrested.
This scam is so common that the FTC created this infographic to describe it.
Social Security Scams
It’s not just tax scams. The Social Security Administration reported receiving more than 115,000 complaints in the past three months. Some people have reported losing as much as $150,000.
Best Defense against Tax Scams
The best defense against tax scams and other scams related to phone calls is simple. Don’t answer any phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
If it’s important (and legitimate), the caller will leave a message.
Recognizing Tax Scams
If the criminals leave a message, there is usually a simple way to recognize it’s a scam. They add a sense of urgency.
This could say something like “If you don’t call us back within 30 minutes,” followed by a threat, such as you’ll be arrested.
Legitimate government agencies (and other organizations) will not issue threats such as this. Of course, they will not give short deadlines, such as 30 minutes, for action either.
Other Tips to Avoid Tax Scams
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) encourages taxpayers, businesses, and tax professionals to review this FTC announcement and the following resources for more information:
- CISA’s Tip on Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft
- FTC’s article on Tax-Related Identity Theft
- Internal Revenue Service’s Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft
Why Do Tax Scams Continue
Why do these tax scams (and other related scams) continue?
Because, they succeed. Criminals continue to steal money from unsuspecting, or uninformed, people.
As an IT professional knowledgeable about security, you may recognize these scams and how to avoid them. However, others in your sphere of influence may not.
Think about your parents, siblings, children, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
Do they know that these scams are common? Do they know that they can avoid most by simply not answering calls from unknown callers? Do they know that they can often recognize a scam when it’s accompanied by a sense of urgency?
If not, feel free to share this article with them.