Well, it’s hard to believe that we are now approaching the last quarter of this year. The beginning of October also brings with it the renewal of tax season. While some of us have filed by the April deadline, there are still many others (in fact millions) who still need to file by the 15th of next month. It’s not a fun time for anybody, and one often thinks “Can rewind back to the summer?”
But keep in mind that this is also prime time for the Cyber attacker to come in an effort to steal your personal data or even file a fraudulent return in order to get the refund that you are owed. So, to help you out, here are some of the top tax scams that you need to be aware of as you get your paperwork into the hands of your accountant:
The Phone Fraud:
With this scare tactic, you will often get a “phony” phone call from somebody stating that there are from the IRS. More than likely, they will either say that you owe money, or are due a sizable refund. Either way, this fraudster is playing onto your emotions so that you will be pressured to give out your Social Security number, credit card number, etc. But keep these tips in mind:
*The IRS never calls tax payers. Their primary means of communications with taxpayers is via the Postal Mail.
*The IRS first gives you ample opportunity to ask questions or even appeal the amount you owe before they start coming after your personal assets.
*The IRS neve specifies an exact payment method for your taxes owed – you can pay it via credit card, ACH, wire transfer, check, etc. as long as they get the money by the time that it is due.
*The IRS never asks for your personal information, as stated above.
*The IRS will never threaten to bring in law enforcement, unless of course, you are involved in a money laundering or fraud scheme.
The funny thing about these fraud calls are that it is automated voice system that calls you – then it transfers you to a person who can’t even speak English properly. Most of these calls are actually routed to call centers-based India.
Ah yes, the good ‘ole Phishing E-Mail is even used in these situations as well. These are really no different than other types of Phishing E-Mails, so be aware of the following:
*Erroneous sounding sender names (the domain extensions for the IRS is .gov, and there should be no space between them – a huge red flag);
*Typos in both the subject line and the body of the text;
*Suspicious links (which can be determined by hovering your mouse pointer over the link – if the two links are different, then you are guaranteed that it is a fraudulent website that you are being directed to);
*Downloading suspicious attachments with file extensions ending in.PDF, .DOC, or .XLS
Remember, the IRS never sends out E-Mails.
Again, the goal of these Phishing E-Mails and phony websites is to get you spill out our personal information, by stating that you are either due a refund, or owe money. In these instances, the Phisher will even try to lure in by stating in the E-Mail that your bank account has been compromised, and the only way to fix it is to log into the IRS website (which is phony of course).
Preying Upon Your Tax Preparer:
It is important to note that the Cyber attacker has shifted their strategy from attacking you directly to now going after your tax preparer. The primary reason for this is that your accountant will obviously have access and records of the Social Security numbers of other tax payers.
This is a treasure trove for the Cyber attacker. In these instances, it is up to your tax preparer to implement the safeguards to make sure that your personal and confidential information is not at risk.
You always have the right to question what they have implemented, and if you cannot get a direct answer, then go somewhere else. My personal recommendation is to steer away from those so-called tax shops that prepare tax returns on the fly when you bring your paperwork in.
Instead, you are far better off to develop a solid relationship with an accountant you can trust, whom you know will have your best interests at heart. This is what I do for both of my personal and corporate taxes. At least I have the peace of mind knowing that they have safeguards in place in their databases that houses the Social Security numbers and other sorts of information.
But keep in mind also that you can even very well receive a phone call, E-Mail, or even a snail mail from a so-called accountant whom is actually a fraudster. If you get anything like this, contact the sender and confirm their identity, and that they have actually sent that form of communication to you.
Stealing Just Your Social Security Number:
Remember, the Cyber attacker, apart from your credit card number, is interested in one primary thing: Your Social Security Number. After all, once this is in his or her possession, they can launch all sorts of Identity Theft against you. But, the most common here is filing a fraudulent tax return using your identity in order to get the tax refund that you are owed.
The worst part about this is that you will not even know that you have become a victim until well after the fact. Probably the only way you will find out about this is if you receive a letter from the IRS stating that another tax return has been filed under your name and Social Security number.
One of the reasons why it can take so long to find out if you have become a victim is that the IRS does not match up Social Security numbers to submitted W-2 information until literally the end of the tax year. And also given the fact that the IRS is so short staffed these days, it may take even longer. As a result, it can take a very long time to get this issue worked out if you indeed have been victimized.
My thoughts on all of this?
Well, it is the same thing any Cyber security professional will tell you:
*If you e-file your own taxes, make sure you do it on a secure website (it will have the HTTPS designation in your browser – also, never file your taxes using a pubic WiFi);
*If you use a tax preparer, make sure that they have the required forms of encryption deployed and implemented – in fact, the IRS is cracking down heavily on tax prepares to make sure that they do this.
*Never respond to anything that sounds or looks suspicious. If in doubt, always contact the IRS. Here are some points of contact:
For Phone related scams: 800-829-1040;
For E-Mail related scams: email@example.com.
In close, I have known of people personally whom have been victims of IRS Fraud – it is very stressful, and once again, it can take a long time to get resolved. So, just take common sense approaches to Security, and you will be fine, and get that refund for you to enjoy!