Don’t Get Sucked in by Tax Scams

Don’t Get Sucked in by Tax Scams

Each year the looming deadlines of the U.S. tax season heralds a new spate of tax fraud scams, and this year is no different. Fraudsters like to take advantage of your stress and heightened emotions to trick you into taking actions, which under normal situations, you would not normally take.

  • Phone Scams – These have become increasingly aggressive over the past years. Callers will claim that there may be a pending audit and that only a credit card payment can stop the process, or that there is a pending refund and an account number is needed to deposit the funds.
  • Email Scams – These emails range from purporting to be the IRS, tax preparers, electronic W2 providers, banks or state tax authorities. They will often request information including Social Security Numbers and financial data.
  • Mail Fraud – While the majority of people now receive their tax refunds electronically through direct deposit, if you still receive a refund check through the mail you are vulnerable to mail fraud. Scammers know that IRS payments are sent in batches and will often dip into mailboxes looking for tell-tale IRS envelopes.
  • Identity Theft – If your identity details have already been stolen fraudsters may leverage this information during tax season. The IRS has seen a huge increase in false IRS claims over the past few years, where the perpetrators file for a refund under your identity.
  • Tax Preparer Fraud – Ensure that you only use a licensed tax preparer service. A licensed preparer will have a specific credentialed ID number that you can verify. Beware of services offering ‘free’ services or services where their fee is based on the amount of your refund

Many of the precautions for these scenarios are the same ones that Northeastern’s Office of Information Security advocate all year long:

  • Watch for language in emails that is inflammatory, and tries to urge you into action to avoid “dire” consequences.
  • Use the “hover for cover” technique – float your mouse cursor over the link to reveal the URL and see where you are going to be taken.
  • Only access your accounts through their main site link. If you use an online tax preparation service, use that main page link to connect. There are scams now which will send emails which will direct you to legitimate sites, but your internet traffic passes through the fraudster’s systems, capturing all your information as it goes to the legitimate site.
  • Electronic W2s – If you receive your W2 in an electronic format only download them on a private computer on a network that you know is secure, i.e. your home network. Remember that when you download this form an electronic copy may be cached on the computer and discoverable by someone else who has access to that machine.
  • Beware of attachments – Take extra caution when opening email attachments from strangers (pdf, doc) containing “tax documents” as they may include malware.

If you believe you are a victim of tax fraud, please reach out to the IRS for assistance:

How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity
FTC Identity Theft Assistance

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