Spring is here (at least in some parts of the world in the northern hemisphere)! The bees are buzzing, the flowers are blooming, and the accountants are working late because for those in the U.S., it’s tax season! Scammers love tax season—there is a lot of money moving around as people pay taxes and receive tax refunds. And they have developed many ways to take advantage of that and steal your hard-earned money.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) maintains a list of the scams that they call the Dirty Dozen and have published this again for 2015. It’s a good idea for all of us to familiarize ourselves with these. Here’s the top three.
- Phone scams. Your phone rings—it’s the IRS stating that you owe money and you must pay it NOW! It can be disconcerting but, never fear, this is a scam. Keep in mind that if you do owe the IRS, they will first contact with you via snail mail before calling. This is the number one scam that criminals are using during tax season so don’t answer your phone (just kidding…just be aware of this).
- Phishing Hackers imitate the IRS and send an email that asks you to update your e-file immediately. The link then directs you to a bogus website. If you enter your information, the hacker collects any information you enter on the site. Remember, the IRS generally does not send emails, text messages or social media posts to request personal or financial information. If you receive any unsolicited communication that appears to be from the IRS, report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Identity Theft. If a cybercriminal gets access to your Social Security number (SSN), they can pose as you and file a tax return under your name, but have the refund sent to them. When you file your tax return, you’ll get a notice from the IRS stating that more than one tax return was filed for you. If you think you are a victim of identity theft or have been in the past, make sure to contact the IRS as they can issue you an identity theft PIN that will be used in addition to your SSN. Make sure to protect your SSN and do not share it unless absolutely necessary.
Stolen tax returns and tax scams have been growing consistently, leaving many identity theft victims struggling to recoup their lost refunds and identities. To help you, here are some tips to protect yourself this tax season.
- Protect your data.Store sensitive documents in a fire-proof safe. If you plan to receive documents with sensitive information like your financial information in the mail, make sure you have a mail box with a lock.
- Shred non-essential paperwork.Check with your accountant to determine what you need and what you don’t. Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy unneeded documents.
- File early.The earlier you file, the more quickly you thwart any criminal’s attempt to file on your behalf and collect your refund.
- Be cautious when clicking. Don’t click on any links or email attachments from emails that appear to be from the IRS. Be suspicious of strange emails and websites instead of clicking on links navigate to IRS.gov on your browser directly
- Protect your devices. Install comprehensive software like McAfee LiveSafe™ service that protects all your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets and make sure to keep it updated.
Here’s a great video from the IRS about tax scams and additional information on how to report IRS phishing scams.
Hope you have a safe tax season!
Robert Siciliano is an Online Safety Expert to Intel Security. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.