It's the season to be filing tax returns, and for scammers and identity thieves it can feel like another Christmas. But, you can keep your information safe with a little effort and preparation.
This is the fourth year the IRS has rolled out its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams, one per day over a dozen business days. In a video produced for the website, the agency reports an increase in tax scams by telephone.
“Some of the most common scams involve con artists who pretend to be from the IRS,” said the woman in the video named Monica. “[They] call victims and tell them that they have to pay right now, or else. We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues; and angry, harassing calls like these are not how we do business.”
Other tax scammers try to lure their victims into filing bogus claims for phony tax credits, non-existent rebates, and/or phony rebates based on their Social Security benefits. The can use flyers and brochures advertising “free money” from the feds with little or no documentation required. Victims would face a double whammy.
“Not only do the victims lose the money they pay the scammer, but they also learn their claims are rejected,” said Monica. “Or worse, they have to return the money to the IRS, plus penalties and interest.”
“The scammers are out there and they’ve got their information,” said Tammy Ward with the Better Business Bureau’s northwest Florida office. “And so if they can file under your name before you do, then they’re going to get your refund.”
One vital key to a successful, protected tax filing is doing your due diligence. In IRS World, a misplaced decimal point or the wrong digit in the wrong place could lead to a major headache. The deadline to file is April 17, the traditional April 15 is on a Sunday this year, and Ward says the best thing to do is go ahead and file, whether you owe, or are owed.
“Make sure that before you sit down to fill out your forms that you’ve got everything in front of you, especially if you’re going it online,” Ward said. “Just make sure you know what category that you fit in, and if you need to talk to someone, go ahead and do that.”
Be sure to keep your guard up against groups posing as charitable organizations seeking donations from unsuspecting taxpayers. Something used by scammers are names that sound similar to legitimate organizations.
“We have a lot of very worthwhile charities, but if you get something in the mail, or an email, just go to our website (www.bbb.org),” said Ward. “And you can actually check all of the accredited charities that we have. And you can find out all the information as far as where you’re money’s going to go.”
The bad guys are constantly on the lookout for new ways to steal identities, and in the past few years have come to include social media. Ward says the best policy is to use such websites with eyes wide open.
“If you’re on social media, and you have something that comes up on your feed and it says, ‘take this quiz,’ and they’re asking you your favorite dog or your graduation year,” Ward says. “Those are passwords that possibly you’ve used for your other financial information.”
The technology battle between the crooks and those who want to stop them is running pretty much neck-and-neck, according to Ward. But it’s the taxpayer who can do the most to avoid becoming a cyber-victim.
“Filing [tax returns] early, making sure that everything you do online is secure,” said Ward. “You have those URLs that have the lock icon, and the https (denoting a secure website) on there. It’s basically who’s going to get there first.”
And Monica on the IRS video repeats that long-standing BBB mantra when it comes to all scams year-round:
“Remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”