In a perfect world we could be rest assured that any person, company, or offer we came across was legitimate. Unfortunately, since this is not the reality of the world in which we live, consumers across the nation must always be on the lookout for scams perpetrated by con artists. Criminals looking to make a quick buck have been doing so for generations; however, with the invention – and subsequent popularity – of the Internet, these scams touch even more victims today.
To trick people into falling for their scams, criminals often misrepresent themselves as a well-known company or government agency. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and it’s likeness have been used in many scams simply due to the fact that people commonly react to any correspondence they receive from the IRS.
The following tips will help you spot and respond to any tax scams that may come your way during tax season or throughout the year:
- Be Wary of Email – This is true for all Internet scams but especially true for correspondence allegedly coming from the IRS. As a general rule, the IRS does not use the email to contact taxpayers regarding tax accounts or issues with taxes. In fact, the IRS is not going to contact you via email unless you have initiated the correspondence and even at this point will likely not discuss tax information via this method of communication. The IRS (and any legitimate company, bank, business) will never ask for confidential information via an email. Any email received by the IRS or what looks to be a bank, credit card company, or government agency asking for PIN numbers, bank information, or other personal or financial information should be reported as a phishing email and not responded to by the recipient.
- Understand How Cyber Criminals Get Your Information – Internet scams using unsolicited email are popular due to the fact that many people don’t realize they have been duped until it is too late. When you receive a suspicious email, understand that by navigating the email – i.e. clicking on links or opening attachments – that you make your computer vulnerable to malware that may be downloaded onto your computer and used to remotely view the information contained on your hard drive. Clicking on links may direct you to “lookalike” websites that while similar to the real deal, are not the official websites of the IRS or other government agency. By entering personal information on a fictitious website or responding to an email, you open yourself up to identity theft and other scams that hurt your personal finances.
- Look for Signs – If you’re not sure whether or not the email you have received is the real deal first, remember the first tip – the IRS does not contact you via email. If you are still unsure or dealing with an email that is not from the IRS, hunt for the following signs: any request for personal information, enticing offer (encouraging you to respond), threats (your account is at risk or you will be in trouble if you don’t reply), and incorrect grammar, misspelling and odd phrasing or use of words. If you spot any of these telltale signs, you are almost always dealing with a scam.
When in doubt, remember that you can always ignore an email and look up the contact information of the sender and initiate your own call to see if the email is legitimate. Do not use the information made available in the email as many con artists set up elaborate scams including fake phone numbers that may be used to gather more personal information. Always follow your instinct and follow up on your own, independently from the email.
Dan (Tax Professional Directory) says
This is really good advice. Seniors seem particularly vulnerable to these scams. I would say find a really good tax preparer in the first place and defer to them on inquiries, they should be able to vet potential fraud.