The United States has extended the 2019 income tax filing deadline to July 15th. And scammers will keep using the stress of tax season scams to rip people off long after that.
In June 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warned of “new variations of tax-related phone and email scams.” In the phone scam, called the “SSN hustle,” robocalls leave voicemails threatening to suspend or cancel the caller’s Social Security number. The email scam uses the pretense of past due taxes to get people to click on a back link or attachment sent by the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement”, which doesn’t even exist.
Anything that causes us mental strain can motivate bad decisions.
Tax troubles can create levels of distress that may only be topped by the spread of a novel coronavirus. That’s why criminals constantly innovate new ways to monetize this stress. And while these attacks spike during tax season, they can happen any time of year. And in the worse cases, these attacks can lead to identity theft.
Prepare for tax season scams
The first step to avoiding malware and scams that use tax time as a lure is to secure any device or account you use to store, prepare, or access tax forms.
This goes beyond running updated security software, like F-Secure SAFE, on devices. Passwords for your key accounts should be too strong for you to remember. Use a password manager, like F-Secure KEY, to keep track of them, adding two-factor authentication through a third-party authentication app rather than SMS whenever possible.
Any device that has access to your email should be locked with a passcode or password whenever you aren’t using it. You should also choose one browser that you use exclusively for financial transactions, and use that for all your tax-related matters.
If you access your tax information – or anything involving personally identifiable data – over public Wi-Fi, make sure you are securing your connection with a reliable, ad-free VPN, like F-Secure FREEDOME.
Consider all emails as potential fakes. Don’t open attachments or links you don’t trust. If you don’t trust yourself to decide which attachments and links you should trust, just avoid them in general.
Above all, reduce urgency and errors by starting on your taxes as soon as possible.
Fine tune your common sense
The IRS does not ask for taxpayers’ financial information via email – ever. It uses regular postal service mail. You can check the IRS site to see if any form you sent or the address you’re supposed to send it to is valid. IRS representatives may call you, but they will never use a recorded message or demand a payment. You can report impersonators here.
Unfortunately, you can’t always trust your caller ID. But hanging up and blocking a number are generally the right moves for avoiding phone scams whenever you are in doubt. Googling strange numbers can often result in tips about known scams.
If you are worried that you may be contacted over a legitimate concern yet still feel unsure, the best move is to contact the agency or company directly. You can do this by going directly to the organization’s official site and using the contact information there.
Taxes should be boring
The tax man knows you are stressed. He doesn’t need to act menacing to terrify you. Real IRS agents and representatives will not immediately threaten to have you arrested or demand payment. You can generally appeal any legitimate tax bill or problem through several gradual steps before any instant action is required.
However, tax scammers know you are stressed and want to make that stress worse. Why? Because then you might act before you think.
Slow down and you can avoid nearly all tax scams. Unfortunately, avoiding taxes isn’t nearly that easy.