The tax filing deadline of Monday, April 18 may feel a long way away, but it will be here before you know it—and tax season is prime time for online scams. The clock is ticking to familiarize yourself with the most common types of scams so you can keep yourself safe this year.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, tax-related identity theft — when a criminal uses someone else’s Social Security number and other personal data to file an income tax return — is the most common type of identity theft. Cybercriminals are crafty and continuously looking for ways to steal your personal information, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) indicates that phishing schemes continue to lead its “dirty dozen” list of common tax scams.
Tax Scams Exposed
Cybercrime constantly evolves. Trending scams this tax season look to cash in on the financial stress many Americans feel because of the pandemic. Here are a few of the top scams affecting the Veteran community this year:
- IRS Impersonation: The IRS warns that scammers are calling intended victims and impersonating government agents. The caller claims the IRS discovered criminal activity associated with the victim’s tax return. Or claims to be an agent reviewing the victim’s account and requests clarification of personal details to process the victim’s tax return. The IRS will never call citizens to threaten them or ask for personal and financial information over the phone.
- CARES Act: Scammers are leveraging the promise of federally funded financial support during the pandemic to gain access to victims’ personal information. They send phishing emails and cold call potential victims claiming to be government representatives who can help them secure Economic Impact Payments or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds. They request Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other sensitive data to process the payments. These attacks often target senior citizens.
- W2 Phishing Scams: These scam emails are almost always directed at the HR or finance office and are normally altered to appear to come from a high-ranking employee, such as a Chief Financial Officer, superintendent, or principal. Once the employee responds, the scammer asks for the entire organization’s W2 information. The hacker can use the information to file fraudulent tax returns or even sell sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, names, addresses, income, and withholdings on the dark web.
Preventative Measures When Filing
There are always preventative measures you can take to keep yourself safe from cybercrime. Here are a few of our top tips for staying safe during tax season:
- Keep Devices Clean: Having updated software on all devices that connect to the internet is critical. This includes security software, web browsers and operating systems for PCs and your mobile devices.
- Get Wi-Fi Savvy: Cybercriminals can potentially intercept internet connections while you are filing highly personal information on public Wi-Fi, so only use private networks you trust.
- In Doubt? Throw it Out: Links in email are often the way criminals get access to your personal information. If it looks suspicious, delete it.
- Lock Down Your Login: Fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.
- Think Before You Act: Be wary of communications that implore you to act immediately, especially if you are told you owe money to the IRS, and it must be paid promptly.
What to Do if You Suspect Identity Theft
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the most important step you can do is file early and get your tax refund before thieves do.
If you think you have tax issues related to identity theft, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. You should also document and report the incident by submitting a police report and the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (form 14039). Be sure to contact your state tax organization, as your state taxes may be affected by the theft as well.
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