Did you know that identity theft and phishing scams, especially around tax season, run rampant? As we go about our annual tax season trawling through receipts, medical bills, credit card transactions and overall financial history from the previous year, none of us really stop and think that a legitimate-looking website or email message may not be where we want to relinquish our personal data. Most websites these days look perfectly legitimate and have the look and feel of a safe place to enter your valuable data. Hackers can easily mirror well-known websites by using official-looking logos and images, but a spoofed website may look legitimate to the untrained eye. Cyber crime is at an all-time high and hackers are ramping up efforts to attack during the 2018 tax filing season.
Cybercrooks are now more sophisticated and prevalent than ever as we move forward to a cashless society. Cyber criminals trade in the digital currency of unsuspecting victims as they enter our lives via the Web. They strive to gain our personal data and potentially leverage such data at unprecedented levels during tax season. However, it is up to us to keep our Internet identity safe, practice safe browsing and stay up-to-date on the latest vulnerabilities that plague the Internet.
The IRS has urged taxpayers and taxpayers' agents to remain extremely vigilant when dealing with their annual tax returns. The IRS is aware of tax scams such as cyber criminals posing as IRS officials to obtain people's personal and corporate details such as a TIN (Tax ID Number) and Social Security numbers.
Your Social Security number or business TIN is the type of information that can become a virtual treasure trove to cyber criminals. Cybercrooks and hacking organizations seeking personal data will eventually want to cash in by leveraging collected Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, legal names, and even banking account information, and eventually redirect refund money to a criminal banking account or an offshore account. The process would involve the cybercrooks filing a tax return in your name and have the refund deposited in their account. Fundamentally, it happens so fast that it is next near impossible to trace or track down the money transaction after it is received. Unfortunately, in most cases of identity theft or IRS fraud, your data and possibly your IRS refund is then sent through a complex data transmission over the Web to an account thousands of miles away. The likelihood of you getting your money back or your identity restored in a timely manner is slim to none.
Hackers Looking to Leverage the IRS Through Aggressive and Enticing Scams Target the Gullible
The IRS has reported cases where cyber criminals have actually obtained the individual's contact details from their financial advisor's computers and waited until a rebate is made, and then phone people with aggressive tactics, saying there was an error and they are acting on behalf of the IRS. In many of the IRS phone fraud cases, the fraudster will explain over the phone that your money needs to be retuned without delay otherwise there would be fraud charges brought against the individual, and their names and social security number would be blacklisted and placed on the IRS defaulter watch list. This new tactic has resulted in unsuspecting individuals actually transferring their refunds to the criminals. The gullible are susceptible to believing that a simple phone call from a fraudster claiming to be the IRS is legitimate and will eventually relinquish private data that leads to identity theft and potential theft of an IRS tax refund.
From the date of October 2013, which is almost five years ago, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reported that they were aware of over 12,000 victims who collectively paid out over $63 million due to tax phone scams. With IRS tax phone scams being only a small part of the scam puzzle, we suspect that there are tens of millions additional dollars that victims paid due to aggressive IRS scams.
To avoid fraudulent activity, the IRS has some basic tips throughout their IRS.gov website to avoid falling victim to popular tax fraud or identity theft schemes. We have also outlined many useful tips below to follow to help avoid being a victim of cybercrooks during this year's tax season.
Top 5 IRS Tax Season Tips to Help Avoid Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft or Tax Fraud
- The IRS does not call people seeking past due tax bills. The IRS will never call individuals or companies directly to demand payment. The IRS will generally first mail a bill to a taxpayer who owes taxes.
- Beware of fraudulent emails with clickable links that attempt to mimic the IRS. The IRS does not send out unsolicited emails, text messages, or social media messages asking to click on a link or access a site to provide personal information.
- Always use a strong password with a combination of multiple characters, numbers, and letters when accessing online accounts, including any account accessed on the IRS.gov website.
- Keep your computer protected from malware threats that may be leveraged to steal your personal data. Invest in a robust software package/service that protects you from malware, ransomware and known phishing sites.
- Never trust the caller ID on your smartphone or landline. Always look for verification of who you are actually talking to. Many times, impersonators may claim to be from other agencies that claim they can fix IRS tax issues or expedite your refund. Use caution with such unsolicited calls and never give them your personal information.
Should you ever feel that you have fallen victim to any type of IRS or identity fraud, the links below may become useful and provide the necessary contact information to report your issue or obtain additional information.
- IRS.gov - Tax Scams Consumer Alerts
- IRS.gov - How to know it's really the IRS calling or knocking on your door
- IRS.gov - Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself
- IRS.gov - Taxpayer Bill of Rights
- Treasury.gov - IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting
- FTCcomplaintassistant.gov - Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant