Cybercriminals love tax season.
The enormous amounts of valuable personal and financial information shared online during this time of year make it a haven for thieves – and they are doing everything they can to take full advantage of the opportunity tax season brings them. They are masters at social engineering. So, during this time of increased potential for having your personal information exposed, it’s critically important to take steps to use the internet safely.
Remember that your personal information is like money. Identity thieves continue their tax-time fraud exploits on two fronts: tax identity fraud and IRS imposter scams. By making informed choices when sharing your personal information, by filing your tax returns as early as possible and by verifying that you’re speaking to the IRS, you can thwart these identity thieves.
Here are four ways cybercriminals try to take advantage of taxpayers during tax season:
- IRS impersonation scams: Callers claiming to be IRS employees might call and insist that you owe money and that it must be paid as soon as possible via gift card or wire service. If the call isn’t picked up, they leave an emergency callback message. The IRS will never call you to demand immediate payment. They will mail you a bill if you owe money.
- Marked increase in phishing, email and malware schemes: Watch for unsolicited emails, texts, social media posts or fake websites that might prompt you to click a link or share personal and financial information. Cybercriminals can use such information to steal your money and/or your identity. Unfamiliar links or attachments can also contain viruses, spyware or other malware that get installed on your computer or mobile device without your knowledge.
- Fraudulent tax returns: File your tax return as soon as possible. The IRS only accepts one tax return per Social Security number. If you file early, it becomes impossible for a fraudster to submit another return with your personal information.
- Tax preparer fraud: The overwhelming majority of tax preparers provide honest services, but some unsavory individuals might target unsuspecting taxpayers, and the result can be refund fraud and/or identity theft. The IRS reminds anyone filing a tax return that their preparer must sign it with their IRS preparer identification number.
Here are a few resources that can help you protect your identity and be safer and more secure online this tax season – and year-round:
- N.C. Department of Revenue: Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft-Related Tax Fraud
- STOP. THINK. CONNECT.™ Tips and Advice
- Identity Theft Resource Center
- The Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov
- The Internal Revenue Service’s Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts