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Safeguarding Your Identity During Tax (Scam) Season

For most Americans, a typical tax season is stressful enough. Coupled with current pandemic concerns, the 2020 tax season could provide the perfect environment for fraudsters deciding to prey on distracted citizens. FineMark’s latest blog post highlights the season’s most popular tax scams and shares three tips to protect your identity.

On March 18, 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and in addition to other relief and stimulus packages, the U.S. Treasury, I.R.S. and federal government announced changes to this year’s tax filing season. About the filing of U.S. taxes in particular, it was announced that the federal tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15, 2020, for all taxpayers. 

While an extended tax season may offer welcome relief during this uncertain time, it’s important to remain aware of a few common scams that tend to crop up at tax time. In general, you should always be wary of:

  • Bogus Phone Calls. If a person claiming to be an IRS agent contacts you, accuses you or anyone else of owing back taxes and demands that money be sent to them urgently, it is a scam. Often, these scammers will leave urgent and rude voicemails asking you to call them back. These types of scams can be tricky to detect because fraudsters use call-spoofing technology that makes it look like their calls are coming from the IRS on caller ID. If you receive these types of calls, hang up and review our protection tips below.
  • Phony Email Messages. If you receive an email message that appears to be from the IRS but contains spelling errors and strange wording or uses awkward language or poor grammar, it is a scam. Scammers will use official-looking formats and images (like the actual IRS logo) to trick victims into sending personal information and money or entice them into opening malicious attachments or clicking on malicious links that will compromise their computer’s security.

These types of scammers also target people using tax preparation software by emailing malware-infected attachments disguised as tax software updates or by sending account alerts to try and gain access to victims’ tax files or login credentials. If you receive any of these types of emails, delete them immediately without clicking on any links or opening any attachments.

  • Fake Websites. These websites are designed to look exactly like legitimate IRS or tax preparation websites. In reality, they are cleverly-designed traps that scammers use to fool victims into giving out their personal and financial information through the use of incorrect contact information or fake login fields. If you encounter a suspicious website, close your browser window immediately. You can also run your virus protection software to ensure your system is secure.

Three Tips to Prevent Scammers’ Tax Tricks

Protect yourself from tax scammers by following these simple tips:

  1. If you owe taxes, the IRS will ALWAYS bill you via U.S. Mail. They will never call or email you, demand immediate payment or require payment via wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. The IRS will also never ask for your credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers over the phone.
  2. The IRS will never threaten you in any way. In particular, they will never threaten to have you arrested if you do not pay immediately.
  3. No matter what actions a caller or sender threatens to take, NEVER give out personal information over the phone or via email.

What to Do If You Think You’ve Been Scammed

If you believe you’ve been a victim of tax-related identity theft or fraud, contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. An IRS representative will verify your identity and walk you through the steps you need to take to rectify the situation. You can also visit the IRS website to access the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft, download Form 14039, or obtain other useful information.

The Federal Trade Commission has an online identity theft reporting tool as well.

FineMark encourages all of our clients to keep this information in mind, share it with friends and family, and consider taking extra precautions like monitoring or freezing credit lines if any criminal, fraudulent or suspicious activity has been detected.

Our client’s physical and financial security is always our primary concern. If you feel threatened at any time, please contact local law enforcement.

If you have questions about this article, please contact us. We’re always here to help!