Another tax season, another new tax scam.
The latest, according to the IRS, is a spin on a classic — scammers file a tax return with stolen information and then, instead of keeping the refund, they have it deposited into the taxpayer's bank account. Sounds like a strange way to scam someone, right? But the trick kicks in when the scammer calls to collect, saying they’re either the IRS or a debt collector and demanding the funds be wired back. Just like that, your refund is gone.
Tax scams are nothing new — scammers go into overdrive during tax season. Here are the five most prevalent types of tax scams to watch for and how to avoid them.
If your information has been stolen (hello Equifax data breach of 2017), scammers can use it to file a tax return in your name and pocket your refund for themselves.
If they don't have your data, they'll try to get it from you using several different methods ...
For those who still answer numbers they don’t recognize, you may hear from someone claiming they are an IRS employee. Perhaps your caller ID even said it was the IRS. Or you got a voicemail from a supposed IRS employee saying it’s urgent you return their call to settle your "tax bill."
However it played out, know this: The IRS will never call you.
These callers usually claim you owe money to the IRS and it's due immediately — or else you could face extreme consequences, like being arrested. They may even demand tax payments with an iTunes or other gift card. Whatever they say, hang up immediately. Do not give out personal information, like your credit or debit card number or Social Security number, over the phone.
If you’re concerned, you can call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
Email is a year-round scamming tool — just ask this alleged middleman to a Nigerian prince advance-fee scam. But during tax season, you may get an email that claims to be from the IRS or your tax preparer. These scammers are clever and will include logos and letterhead to make it look official, fooling people into handing over personal information. Don't click any links or open any attachments — forward the email to the IRS (email@example.com) and delete it immediately.
Genius tip: The sender name could say the IRS but look at the actual email address. It likely is filled with various letters and numbers that proves it isn’t coming from a legitimate IRS account. Just like they won’t call you, the IRS won’t email you, either.
Similar to email and phone scams, text messages from unknown numbers claiming to be the IRS are scammers hoping you’ll share your personal details. Don’t click on any links from senders you don’t recognize, as they may lead to a phishing site that gathers your information.
Tax return preparer fraud
We get it — taxes can be complicated. That’s why many people turn to tax professionals for help. But remember: You’re offering up a lot of personal information to these folks, so don’t just pick a name out of a hat. Do your research ahead of time to help choose a legitimate preparer. You can start with the IRS tool that helps you check their qualifications.
How to avoid tax scams
One of the best things you can do is file early. This gives fraudsters less of a chance of getting your tax return. You can read this guide to get a handle on everything you need to know about filing your taxes in 2018.
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
You should report it. If you receive a fraudulent tax refund, here are some guidelines on how to return the money. This never involves returning a call or email from someone claiming to be the IRS. Instead, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 and forward any suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also want to consider a credit freeze with the three major credit bureaus to prevent the damage from getting worse.