Tax Season Prime Time for Data Scams

Tax season is in full swing and criminals are seizing the opportunity for scams. Because of recent major data breaches which exposed sensitive information on a large scale, we should be vigilant about taking steps to minimize our risk of ID theft and other online-related crime. Don’t become the next victim.

Scammers leverage every means at their disposal to separate you from your money, your identity, or anything else of value they can get. They may offer seemingly legitimate “tax services” designed to steal your identity and your tax refund, sometimes with the lure of bigger write-offs or refunds. Scams may include mocked up websites and tax forms that look like they belong to the IRS to trick you into providing your personal information.

Vigilance about the security of our online activities is required every day, but is especially important during this time of year. Below are some warning signs to look for and basic precautions you can take to minimize risk.

Recognize an Online Tax Scam:

  • Requests personal and/or financial information, such as name, SSN, bank or credit card account numbers or security-related information, such as mother’s maiden name, either in the email itself or on another site to which a link in the email directs you;
  • Includes exciting offers to get you to respond, such as mentioning a tax refund or offering to pay you to participate in an IRS survey;
  • Threatens a consequence for not responding to the email, such as additional taxes or blocking access to your funds;
  • Has incorrect spelling for the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agencies;
  • Uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing;
  • Discusses “changes to tax laws” that include a downloadable document (usually in PDF format) that purports to explain the new tax laws (these downloads are populated with malware that, once downloaded, may infect your computer).

Avoid Becoming a Victim:

  • Submit your tax returns as soon as possible in order to prevent someone else from filing under your name.
  • Secure your computer. Make sure your computer has the latest security updates installed. Check that your anti-virus and anti-spyware software are running properly.
  • Carefully select the sites you visit. Do not visit a site by clicking on a link sent in an email, found on someone’s blog, or in an advertisement. The website you land on may look just like the real site, but it may be a well-crafted fake.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi to file your taxes.
  • Don’t fall prey to email, web, or social networking scams. Common scams tout tax rebates, offer great deals on tax preparation or offer a free tax calculator tool. If you did not solicit the information, it’s likely a scam. If the email claims to be from the IRS, it’s a scam — the IRS will not contact you via email, text messaging or your social network, nor does it advertise on websites. If the email appears to be from UT, your bank, your broker, etc., claiming there is an issue with what they reported for you and you need to verify some information, it might be a scam. Do not respond to the email. Contact the entity directly before responding.
  • Never send sensitive information in an email. It may be intercepted by criminals.

For more information:

Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2014

Report Phishing