Tax Season Scams: What You Need to Know

scam tax return

Let’s face it: tax season is taxing anyway without having to worry about being scammed. Scammers, of course, pose a threat year-round. But tax season serves up especially tempting fodder for thieves wanting to put your money into their pockets. From very unfriendly “ghosts’’ to realistic-looking caller ID phone numbers to questionable e-mails and letters, potential trouble lurks around every filing. Here are just a few of the scams to be aware of this tax season, which has been extended to July 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Believe in Ghosts

A ghost preparer, according to the IRS, is paid to prepare a tax return, but does not sign it, either electronically or on paper, as the paid preparer.

This is a huge red flag. The law requires that anyone who prepares or assists in preparing federal tax returns for compensation must have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN, before preparing any tax return. Tax preparers need to sign the tax returns they prepare on paper and include their PTIN on the tax return, which provides the IRS with their identifying information.

Without this identifying information, the government does not know that anyone assisted with the preparation.

Unscrupulous ghost preparers can then participate in a number of scams. They can direct refunds into their own accounts rather than that of the taxpayer’s, among other schemes.

To minimize the chances of being caught in this scam, make sure your tax return includes your tax preparer's signature and PTIN. Also, check that the routing number, checking account number, and personal information provided for the deposit of your tax refund is accurate. But most important from the get-go: choose your tax preparer wisely. Read the IRS's advice about how to hire a qualified tax preparer.

Just Hit Delete

Scammers have been sending e-mails purportedly from the IRS that include realistic-looking subject lines and links to sites that resemble official government websites.

These emails claim to have information about your income tax refund, electronic return, or tax account.  But click on that link and you're opening a malicious file that potentially gives scammers access to passwords to sensitive personal information, including your financial accounts.

The IRS wants taxpayers to know that they do not send unsolicited emails and they do not email taxpayers about refund statuses. So if you get an email like this from the "IRS," hit the delete key to avoid any problems

Trouble on the Line

Criminals are infamous for using the phone to frighten and scam taxpayers.

When they get you on the line, they purport to be from the IRS and claim you owe back taxes. The scammer threatens to arrest, sue, or deport you, or revoke your driver's license. The scammer will then tell you you can avoid these terrible fates by putting money on a prepaid debit card and sharing the card numbers with them.

It certainly sounds suspicious but your caller ID might show a Washington, DC, phone number and even have government-sounding name that looks realistic.

But rest assured, the call's a fake.

The IRS won’t ask for a credit card over the phone or require payment through prepaid debit cards. And even if you do owe taxes, you will be informed by U.S. Mail, not a telephone call. That realistic-looking caller ID? Like the scammers themselves...fake, fake, fake.

It’s all part of an increasingly sophisticated scam to separate you from your hard-earned money. Don't fall for the scam, no matter how threatening the call.

You've Got Mail

Scam artists have caught on that the IRS makes initial contact with taxpayers by U.S. Mail. Some scammers have resorted to creating fake letters using photo-editing software, copying IRS layouts and fonts, and then mailing these fake letters to their victims. The fake letter could include notice of a balance due, or even a request that you call them with additional information. The scammer is hoping you'll call the number they've provided on the fake letter, so they can trick you into giving them your personal information.

If you get a letter from the IRS, be safe and look up the IRS's main number yourself...don't use the phone number on the letter. An official IRS agent will be able to look up your information and tell you immediately if the letter is legitimate or not.

Be Aware and Report

Be wary at tax time. And remember: The IRS wants to know if you’ve been approached by scammers.

Report all unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS or an IRS-related function to phishing@irs.gov. You could be helping someone else from getting stung by a scammer.

If you believe your account with Hanscom FCU has been compromised during tax time, please give our Remote Support team a call at 800-656-4328.

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About Author

Sandra Quadros Bowles
Sandra Quadros Bowles

Sandy Quadros Bowles is a veteran journalist who has received local, state, and national journalism awards. A resident of New Bedford, MA, she is an animal enthusiast, an avid reader, and an enthusiastic traveler.

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