Preparing for the 2021 tax season: How to stay safe filing online

Tax season is scam season

Tax season may be starting late this year, but scammers are out in full force planning ways to steal your tax refund. According to the IRS, scammers have stolen millions of dollars from taxpayers. As more and more people prepare to file online, it’s clear that tax identity theft attempts could put everyone at risk. But how can you try and combat this?

The IRS recently released the top twelve things to look out for during tax season. They call it the “Dirty Dozen,” and reading up on these examples is a great way to prepare. Here is a comprehensive list of what to look out for, and how to make sure you’re ready to file.

EIP or refund theft

This year, criminals are looking for opportunities to steal the Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the time, these scammers are filing fake tax returns. If you were eligible for EIPs, make sure that you received your payments. If you did not receive them, check and make sure that they were not received in your name.

Social media scams

When a scammer hacks into a user’s account, they often impersonate that user by sending messages to friends or relatives with links to websites that try to steal your information. Look out for messages that seem unusual. If you receive one, make sure to notify the person that they have been hacked and don’t engage with the message in any way.

Senior fraud

According to the IRS, seniors citizens deal with scamming attempts more than any other group. If you are a senior, make sure never to share sensitive information with anyone on social media and look out for text messages and emails asking for it.

Fake charities

If you receive a text, call, or email from a charity, make sure it is a real organization before making any donations. If you are unsure, use this search tool from IRS.gov.

Impersonator phone calls

At times, scammers will pretend to be calling from the IRS. They will often use a threat to get your attention and ask for personal information in return. The IRS will never ask you for your social security number or any other form of identification over the phone, so this is an instant red flag.

Phishing

Phishing attempts happen all the time. Whether it’s an email with a suspicious link or a text message asking you to confirm your social security number, these phishing schemes can be challenging to recognize. Try scanning for unfamiliar links, urgent language, or any requests for personal information. If you see something that seems out of the ordinary, ignore the message and report it to phishing@irs.gov.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a form of malware that gets downloaded into your computer or server. Since this kind of invasive software often hides within phishing links, a person may not even realize that it’s happened. Once downloaded, the software tracks online activity and keystrokes in an attempt to steal private passwords and other information. Sometimes, pop-ups with ransom requests are a sign that a user is a victim of ransomware. If you’re looking to protect yourself from this, try to use two-step authentication passwords to keep your accounts safe.

Scams targeting non-English speakers

Fake robocalls from the IRS target almost everyone, but non-English speakers often deal with even more invasive tactics. Sometimes, recent immigrants receive robocalls riddled with words like “deportation” and “jail” to try and scare these people into falling for their scams. One consistent rule of thumb is never to relay personal information over the phone. The IRS will never call you with threats.

Fake payments with repayment demands

Scams are becoming more complex, employing elaborate schemes to get you to send money willingly. Scammers convince you they have deposited fake cash into your account, then demand you return it to them. They may ask you to transfer the money back directly or send gift cards in the refund amount. Still, the important thing to remember is that even if the IRS accidentally deposits money into your account, they would never call you asking for a specific payment method like a gift card. 

Payroll and HR scams

Scammers are always looking for ways to get a hold of your private information, but personal documents like your W-2s are even more valuable to them. Why? Because they want to take your tax return, and the best way to do this is to act as legitimate as possible. Look out for unusual messages from the IRS, unfamiliar emails from HR, and any other attempt to get your information. 

Unscrupulous return preparers

If you seek the help of a tax professional, you’re concerned about making sure everything is just right. While this can be a great way to make sure you’re filing correctly, there are scammers out there pretending to help you. Make sure that the person preparing your tax documents signs the form and includes a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).

Offer in Compromise mills

Tax debt resolution companies may advertise how they can manipulate the system to clear a person’s tax debts. Sometimes, they mention Offers in Compromise (OICs) to people who are underqualified for these offers and charge large fees with the promise of results. If you want to make sure you’re actually eligible for an OIC, check the Pre-Qualifier tool on IRS.gov.

Other tips to prevent tax identity theft

There are numerous ways to protect against these scams while you’re filing your taxes. First, make sure you type IRS.gov into the address bar rather than click on any links. For extra caution, look for “https” at the beginning of the URL. It’s essential to be extra vigilant and monitor your accounts and taxes. It’s also a good idea to watch your credit and make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name. 

There’s no need to stress. With these tips, you’ll be prepped for tax season this year, even though things may be a bit delayed in 2021. And if you do come across a scam, be sure to report it to The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network. 

Sources: 

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-unveils-dirty-dozen-list-of-tax-scams-for-2020-americans-urged-to-be-vigilant-to-these-threats-during-the-pandemic-and-its-aftermath 

http://www.dhs.gov/blog/2014/03/31/ensure-your-cyber-safety-tax-season