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Tax Time Identity Theft

How to Recognize a Tax Time Scam or Phishing Email


Tax Time Identity Theft
Getty/Jon Riley

Identity thieves have a field day at tax time. There are more than 1500 different tax scams and counting being sent out in hundreds of thousands of tax scam emails. The IRS says tax scams, especially through phishing emails, are a huge problem. Upon calling the IRS for more information, the nice lady on the other end of the phone said she wasn’t allowed to talk to the press officially, but, she said, “identity theft this year is bad. It’s real bad.”

Tax Time Identity Theft Scams

Phishing, especially, has grown in occurrence and complexity. But in addition a down economy and tighter restrictions on credit, a general feeding-frenzy of identity theft will fuel an increase in tax time scams and schemes. You may receive a phishing email that promises a refund you might or might not be due. Or it may say you need to file an additional form. These emails usually include links which lead to a form you’re asked to fill out.


The IRS says these are the key ways to recognize a tax scam:

  • The email requests detailed or an unusual amount of 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 e-mail itself or on another site to which a link in the e-mail sends you to.
  • The email may dangle bait 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 e-mail, such as additional taxes or blocking access to the recipient’s funds.
  • Gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong.
  • Uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing
  • Uses a really long address in any link contained in the e-mail message or one that does not start with the actual IRS Web site address (http://www.irs.gov). The actual link’s address, or url, is revealed by moving the mouse over the link included in the text of the e-mail.
  • You could receive a “confirmation phone call” from someone claiming to be an IRS representative who needs to verify your personal and banking information before your tax refund can be released. They may claim the reason verification is needed is because you were previously sent a check that has not been cashed.
  • Emails about “changes to tax laws” that include a downloadable document (usually in PDF format) that are supposed to explain the new tax laws. These downloads are populated with malware that, once downloaded, will infect your computer.

There are likely to be new tax scams that appear as this season stretches on. And of course they will most likely become more and more sophisticated.

Protecting Your Identity From Tax Time Scams

These are the important things to remember to protect yourself from scams all the year long, but especially at tax time:

  • The IRS never calls you or sends you email. According to the IRS web site, you will never receive an email or telephone communication from them requesting personal information. The IRS does business the old fashioned way; though the mail. If you receive an email or phone call that seems to be from the IRS, don’t respond. For phone calls, hang up and call 1-800-829-1040 and ask about the call you received. You will find that it did not come from the IRS. If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Then delete it.
  • Know what’s required. The IRS never requires additional forms or information to be submitted for you to receive your refund from them. Normal tax return forms are sufficient and include all of the information that the IRS needs from you. You should not be asked to fill out additional forms before your refund is “released”.
  • Beware of paper communications, too. No scams have been reported that are regular mail-based, however, you should always be aware of the dangers that are inherent to postal mail. Protect your identity by using safe mail handling practices. A few tax scams have been reported that ask you to fax information back. The IRS never does this.
  • Know who you’re hiring. If you plan to hire someone to prepare your taxes, make sure you know who it is. Many online tax preparation companies spring up around tax time, some of them nothing more than a scam. Even real world tax preparation services [LINK] can be criminals. Take the time to check out any tax preparation service before you give them access to your personal and financial information.
  • Protect your computer. If you plan to file your taxes online, be sure you have current anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall protection installed. This applies even if you’re not filing your taxes online. Also be sure to password protect files before storing them on a hard drive or transmitting them electronically.

Tax time is stressful enough. Don’t let identity theft make it any more stressful than it has to be. Especially at this time of year, know how to protect yourself from identity theft, and what information to protect. When you get your refund check, you’ll be glad you did.

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