The IRS has issued a warning on identity theft several weeks before tax season is set to begin. According to the IRS, they have received an increase in reports of identity thieves attempting to access the W-2s of employees at small businesses. W-2 forms contain extensive personal information. This is only one type of scam that could cost you dearly during tax season. Identity thieves may use the following scams to steal your information or take your hard-earned money.
- Phishing emails: These are emails that attempt to trick you into giving personal information or clicking on links. Phishing emails can be designed to look like they are coming from the IRS or your employer. Some phishing emails may contain links or attachments that download malware onto your computer. Malware could log keystrokes, take control of your PC or view what is on your screen.
- Soliciting payments: Another common scam involves tricking you into making payments to scammers. Scammers may claim that you owe taxes and must make a payment to avoid arrest.
- Tax refund theft: Each year, scammers steal income tax refunds from filers. In such cases, scammers have already obtained personal information through phishing emails, data breaches or through other means. The Equifax hack that occurred last year could increase the number of tax refund thefts for 2018. You can reduce the chances of having your refund stolen by filing as early as possible.
- Return preparation fraud: Scammers may also steal your personal information or tax refund by claiming they can help file your return. There are VITA programs that offer a legitimate preparation service for low-income filers. The IRS has a listing of these programs on its website.
A general rule of thumb is to remain cautious of unsolicited phone calls and emails. The IRS will not initiate contact with you through social media, text message or email to request personal information. You should also be wary of any services that are too good to be true.