As the April 18 filing deadline looms, a new wave of tax scams is heating up. Whether you’ve already filed your 2016 return – and especially if not – here’s how to protect yourself from these “last-minute” schemes currently making the rounds:
Don’t trust “update” requests. One popular phishing ploy this time of year involves emails supposedly from tax software providers such as TurboTax or TaxACT. They request users to “update” their information. “These ruses generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers,” warns the IRS. In addition to emails, beware of similar “update” requests by phone or text supposedly from tax software providers, banks and credit card companies.
Step lightly on TAP requests. Another info-phishing con: Emails that promise a refund that supposedly come from the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel. While TAP is an authentic volunteer board that advises the IRS on taxpayer issues, it doesn’t deal with refunds, or even have access to any taxpayer’s personal and financial information, notes the agency. There emails are from scammers phishing for SSNs and financial account information.
Know the drill. Tax-related correspondence is mailed; the IRS and other tax agencies do not initiate contact by phone, text or email. In the 2016 season, the IRS saw a 400 percent uptick in phishing and malware attempts, most commonly scam emails claiming information or a problem related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information. These fakes include an attached link, which can harbor malware, that leads to an IRS-mirroring website run by scammer. Note the tinkered address such as “irsgov” (without the dot between “IRS” and “gov”), irs.net, or a similar variation.
Meanwhile, the IRS imposter phone scam is alive and well, preying on taxpayers including recent immigrants. In addition to the usual ploy – threats of arrest, deportation or property seizure over an allege debt – a new spin has IRS imposters promising a refund, a move to trick targets into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request. Ignore it, instead calling the IRS at 800-829-1040.
Choose preparers to not lose. Good luck finding a preparer this late in the game, but if you’re still looking, some tips to finding one who’s reputable (if only for next year): Check this IRS directory for credential preparers, and here for organizations provided free help. The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program offers free, individualized tax preparation for low-to moderate-income taxpayers at more than 5,000 locations nationwide. If your adjusted gross income was less than $64,000 last year, you qualify for the IRS Free File program. Beware of preparers (especially with temporary storefronts or conduct business at your home) who promise overly generous refunds, want you to sign a blank return, say that fees are based on the size of your refund claim “secrets” loopholes.
Accountants under attack. Let your numbers-cruncher know of these schemes against them: In a new scam, the IRS reports that fraudsters pose as a client (namely, you), asking tax preparers to make a last-minute change to their refund destination, often to a prepaid debit card. Tax preparers are urged to verbally reconfirm information with clients should they receive last-minute email request to change an address or direct deposit account for refunds.
Another scheme: Emails to tax preparers that warn they need to update or access to their own tax preparation software via a bogus “unlock” link that leads to a fake web page, asking for their user name and password so cybercrooks can access client information. Ruses also include other tax prep provider-posing ploys and attempts to steal data such as PTINs, EFINs or e-Service passwords.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.