Consumer News

9 Signs It May Be a Tax Return Scam

Don’t file with fraudsters this tax season.

Consumer News

9 Signs It May Be a Tax Return Scam

You may hate to do your taxes, but some scammers eagerly await the season. And as we approach Tax Day this year, the IRS is warning of identity theft scams where fraudsters trick taxpayers into providing personal information over the phone or through email by impersonating IRS agents and aggressively threatening arrest, deportation, and other actions, if the person on the other end doesn’t immediately comply. The agency reported a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents this tax season. Even more worrisome, a recent audit by Online Trust Alliance, a Washington-state based nonprofit, found that about half of firms that have agreements with the IRS to provide free online tax preparation and filing services are not adequately protecting customers’ privacy and security against cybercriminals. Cyber-criminals who gain access to the accounts are filing false returns and refund claims.

But that’s not the only way fraudsters are attempting to make hay on the season. Here’s what you should know so you don’t get fleeced when filing your claims:

  1. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment. Period.
  2. The IRS does not contact taxpayers by email, text, or through social media to request Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number. If you get a communication from someone purporting to be from the IRS, it may be someone trying to steal your identity by getting your personal information. Report such attempts to [email protected].
  3. Promises of larger-than-normal tax returns should be a red flag that the tax preparer may not be above board.
  4. Ethical tax preparers do not charge a percentage of the refund amount as a fee or require you to split the refund with them.
  5. Some scammers pose as fake charities to attract donations from taxpayers. Look into the status of a charitable organization before you donate.
  6. Every tax preparer has to have a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number). Ask to see the number. (A list of IRS actions against preparers can be found here if you want to see if the preparer has had a problem before.)
  7. Tax preparers who encourage you to place false information on your tax return are breaking the law.
  8. Promises of “free money” from the IRS or Social Security refunds or rebates are part of scams known to lure low-income and elderly consumers to a fraudulent website or tax scam artist.
  9. Fraudsters will try to attract taxpayers by promising that you can file a tax return with little or no documentation, which is untrue.

The IRS offers free assistance in preparing taxes. More information on how to pick a tax preparer and programs offered through the IRS can be found here.  Additional information about tax season scams can be found here.

This article was originally published on 2/24/14 and updated several times. 


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