Avoid Losing Your Refund to Tax Refund Scams
Here are a few tips on protecting yourself from losing your tax refund to scammers.
Tax Refund Phishing Emails Scams
Phishing is an old standby of scammers for a very simple reason: it works. Phishing emails purport to be from the IRS, usually with a link to a website asking for personally identifiable information.
Be on guard as soon as you receive one of these emails. The IRS will not email you about your taxes. They only contact you through that most traditional form of communication, the U.S. mail. Immediately mark any email purporting to be from the IRS as spam.
Tax Refund Phone Scams
The American taxpayer has grown more savvy to tax refund scams involving email phishing, so scammers will also try telephone scams to get your personal information. These phone-based tax refund scams work in much the same way as phishing scams: you get a phone call from someone saying they’re from the IRS. They want to talk to you about your tax return, but then for some reason they have none of your personal information and need you to provide it. Or they’ll ask you to confirm your personal information.
As a general rule, you should be careful about any phone call concerning your finances. When you get a phone call about your finances, take down the name of the caller and their organization. And don’t trust your caller ID if it shows a number that appears official or matches the phone number listed on a legitimate IRS website. Phone numbers are easy to “spoof,” or make look like numbers they’re not.
And, again, the first contact you would have from the IRS — if there were a legitimate issue — would be in the form of official correspondence sent by mail, not a phone call.
Tax Refund Identity Theft Scams
If you have become a victim of a tax refund scam, there is an additional piece of bad news: you are also a likely target for identity theft.
These crimes are very closely linked, because anyone who has enough information to file a tax return on your behalf and claim your refund probably has enough information to commit other forms of identity theft. This works in the other direction as well: victims of identity theft are more likely to become victims of tax refund scams.
If you have been a victim of either, operate as if you have been a victim of both. This means closely monitoring your credit report and being careful if you find out any new accounts are opened in your name. You should also contact your bank and your credit card companies to make changes to your account information, making it harder for the scammers to capitalize on the information they have. This might sound like a hassle, but it’s much less trouble than dealing with fraud after it occurs.
The silver lining to this cloud is that if you’re already engaged in best practices related to your personally identifiable information, you probably don’t have to worry about losing your tax refund — or your identity — to criminal scammers.