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New tax season means new scams:How to protect yourself and what to do when you encounter these “badactors”

Updated: Mar 21

A new filing season brings with it new scams. In fact, the IRS has recently issued alerts about some of these schemes. Scammers are targeting both taxpayers as well as tax professionals alike. By partnering with O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig, you have a trusted and experienced full-service accounting firm on your side. Our firm has seen a lot in its more than 70 years. We are not going anywhere. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on our responsiveness. 

Tax returns

We urge you to bring any questions or concerns to us about the likes of notifications, mailers or other communications. When in doubt, simply contact us before acting on a potentially unscrupulous communication. In the meantime, we provide you with a “refresher” on solid tips to keep your personal information safe and sound through “tax season” and beyond. We also advise on some of the newer tactics to watch for and to be wary of. 

Spoofing” the IRS 

This summer, the IRS issued an alert about the latest in a long series of scams designed to “trick” unwitting and well-meaning taxpayers into believing that they are communicating with the agency. The scam involves identity thieves sending mailers in  cardboard envelopes from delivery services providers with what appears to be an official IRS masthead and verbiage related to the recipients’ “unclaimed refunds.” The thieves’ hope is that you will part with your sensitive data, which can then be used for them to scoop up tax refunds as well as to mine for additional information that could prove to be lucrative down the line. 

A variety of other spoofing scams may be deployed by thieves through email, text message, phone – imagine any way we communicate these days and some nefarious parties are likely right there, using the same tools and platforms. 

For email phishing scams designed to trick taxpayers into handing over their valuable data, the messages may purport to be from the IRS and solicit personal and/or financial info. For phone scams, the thief spoofs as a representative from the IRS, and may leave pre-recorded, urgent, and even intimidating messages. The message may relay that the recipient will be arrested or even deported for not paying an alleged tax bill outstanding. These scammers can even spoof the legit phone numbers for local, state, federal, and government agencies – including the IRS. 

  • Do not be intimidated.

  • Stand firm. Don’t provide any info over the phone or via the other methods mentioned here. 

  • There are specific payment channels in place and forms of communication that the IRS uses. The aforementioned channels are not among them.

  • The IRS will never contact taxpayers with emails soliciting personal/financial details. The same notion applies to suspicious requests via social media platforms and messaging systems.

  • Likewise, when receiving calls that set off your “spidey-sense,” know that the IRS’s protocol is to reach out via regular mail delivery from the U.S. Postal Service. 

  • Often, you will have received several like notices and letters via mail if you have delinquent returns or overdue bills. 

  • It is only after these notifications have been sent and the bills remain unpaid and the returns remain unfiled that the IRS may call you or, in rare cases, visit your home and/or place of business. 

  • The IRS never calls to demand urgent payments. 

  • The IRS never urges payment through specific methods (scammers like to trick individuals into parting with their money via prepaid debit or gift cards or wire transfers – massive red flags).

  • The IRS will not threaten you or scare you into thinking that law enforcement will get involved if you don’t pay them or do as they say.

  • You will always have the opportunity to ask questions about or to appeal any amounts that are mentioned and that you supposedly owe. 

  • The IRS does not request details such as your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

It is also helpful to conduct a tax time security “audit.” Of course, the practices and steps that we suggest go far to protect your data and sensitive info year round and outside of the tax filing process. Brush up on your firewall and security software. If you are not already set up for auto-updates, do so now. It is too easy to forget and to let important security updates slide. Are you still using your pet’s or child’s name as a password? It’s not 1995! Use unique passwords, such as odd phrases you may remember or those with added symbols and numbers. 

Mind your multi-factor or two-factor authentication for an additional layer of security. Be very wary of opening any messages from unknown sources, as well as downloading software or applications associated with pop-ups and other forms of “advertising.” Be sure that everyone is on the same page, including grandma and grandpa or the self-proclaimed younger “technophobe” within the family, as their lack of awareness and what to do in suspect situations can be a liability.  

Assure your return is “bulletproof.” With proper validation, you can secure a six-digit Identity Protection PIN. With this extra layer of security, you protect your return/funds and prevent “bad actors” form filing returns using your SSN or the TIN (Individual Taxpayer ID Number). 

What to do when you encounter tax scammers

The IRS has specific protocols in place for individuals to report suspected suspicious activity and schemes. For instance, there is an email address that is dedicated to taking reports of phishing scams. Additionally, there is a specific process for individuals who have been scammed and experienced losses as the result of these schemes here at the U.S. Treasury Inspect General for Tax Administration. Other steps and contacts can be found here, and include actions to take when being harassed by abusive or threatening parties, or when coming across potentially fraudulent tax preparers.  

We can all do our part to minimize the distressing and costly consequences of ever-rising tax-related schemes. And, know that your information is always in good hands at OFWF. Our team has decades-worth of experience on our side. Plus, we have considerable infrastructure and protocols in place to ensure any info provided to us is safe and secure.

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