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Tax Scams 2020: A Comprehensive Guide

tax scam guide

In 2018, the IRS had 649,000 confirmed cases of fraudulent tax returns from scammers trying to steal over $3 billion in tax refunds.

There are a lot of new and old ways being used to trick taxpayers and tax preparers alike. Like fake emails and phone calls, or even holding important documents they’ve stolen up for ransom. But the IRS is doing everything they can to protect taxpayer’s personal information and weed out scammers.

Protecting your information and important documents is the key to avoiding tax scams. Knowing a thing or two about what tax scammers are doing and how they’re doing it can also help you spot a scammer before you get taken advantage of.

Explore this Article

What are Tax Scams?

A tax scam is when someone uses tax season to steal private information. Many tax scams try and steal your personal information so they can file your taxes before you do, and claim your tax refund for themselves.

How to Tell if Something is a Scam

There’s not a worse feeling in the world than getting fooled by a scammer. Avoid letting this happen to you by first understanding what scammers want. They want to get you to pay for fraudulent services or they want your personal information. Second, learn to recognize the characteristics of a scam before it tricks you.

  • They will try and make you panic
  • They will try and get you to download something
  • They will try and get you to click on links
  • They will want you to pay in prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers
  • They will demand immediate action and try to rush you
  • Their site won’t be secure
  • They will contact you in a way that the IRS won’t, like through emails, phone calls, or texts
  • Their promises will sound (and be) too good to be true

Common Tax Scams

The official website of the IRS is a great place to go for information and resources about tax scams. This year the IRS published a list of tax scams they call the “Dirty Dozen.” Here’s a brief recap of the tax scams you’ll want to look out for and what you should do if one of these tax scams hit you.

1. Berkheimer Tax Innovations Scam

Berkheimer Tax Administrator Services is an example of taxpayers receiving concerning letters in the mail about their taxes. They are one tax preparation company that has received a lot of flax for less than ideal business practices. Many of their customers have complained to the Better Business Bureau about receiving strange letters saying they owed delinquent taxes and asking for payment.

Be careful where you choose to file your taxes. When researching tax service providers you can always check their status on the Better Business Bureau’s website to make sure you aren’t falling prey to a scammy or fraudulent company.

2. IRS Tax Scam

Some tax scams will try and pretend they are the IRS in order to get you to pay them or give them information. This is also called phishing.

Phishing is when a tax scammer sends out emails or even creates a fake website to trick people into thinking they are the IRS. But the IRS directly states on their official website that they “will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or tax refund.”

So if you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, you can immediately know it’s a scam and report it. Do not click on any links or respond to any emails claiming to be from the IRS. By interacting with a fake email from the IRS you can jeopardize your computer and your personal information.

The IRS directly states on their official website that they will never do the following:

  • The IRS will not call you demanding immediate payment through a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. If you do owe the IRS money, they will first mail you a bill, and you will never pay the IRS through prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers. Scammers like to use these forms of payment because they are difficult to track.
  • The IRS will never threaten to have you arrested.
  • The IRS will never demand payment without allowing you to question or appeal what you owe.
  • The IRS will never ask you to give them your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • The IRS will never suddenly call you about an unexpected refund for you.
3. Tax Evasion Scam

There are several forms of Tax evasion scams you should be aware of. These types of scams will try and sell programs to help you avoid paying taxes.

Offshore Tax Avoidance

One tax scam is to try and hide income offshore in order to avoid paying taxes on them. If you’ve been involved in any offshore tax avoidance, the best thing you can do is voluntarily catch up on your taxes to make things right.

Frivolous Tax Arguments

Some tax scammers will try convincing you to take part in frivolous tax arguments to try and avoid paying taxes. These cases are repeatedly thrown out in court, no matter what the tax scammer might say.

Abusive Tax Shelters

There are people who create complex tax avoidance schemes and then sell them to unsuspecting members of the public. Be aware that there are tax scammers like these, trying to peddle too-good-to-be-true schemes, plans, programs, or shelters.

4. Tax Fraud Scam

Other scammers will try and encourage taxpayers to fake information on their tax return in order to get certain benefits.

Return Preparer Fraud

Be careful when choosing a tax preparer or tax filing service. Make sure the website is secure and that the tax filing service is trustworthy and legitimate. Many scammers will try to pose as tax preparers to get ahold of your precious personal information and documents.

Find an established tax preparer you can trust, like Check City Tax Services, where you can file your taxes in a timely manner and know your documents and personal information are secure.

Inflated Refund Claims
Be careful if you are being promised an inflated tax refund, or if your tax preparer tries to get you to sign a blank return. When promises seem too good to be true, they often are. Trust this instinct and avoid scammers who will try and reel you in by promising larger than life tax refunds.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits
Never trust a tax preparer that tries to convince you to falsify information on your tax record. All information on your tax return should be accurate. If someone tries to convince you otherwise, like that you received more income than you actually did, they are lying to you. Scams like these will lead you to pay large bills and penalties back to the IRS.

Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns
Again, all the information on your tax returns should be accurate. Do not inflate your deductions or expenses in order to pay less in taxes or get a larger tax refund. If your tax preparer is trying to work this way, then you should move your tax filing business elsewhere.

Fake Charities
Beware of fake charities. Sometimes you can recognize a fake charity because they will try and use similar names to well-known charities in order to confuse you. Donating to a worthy cause is a great thing to do, but not if you don’t take the time to double-check that the charity is real.

Excessive Claims for Business Credits
Be careful not to claim tax credits that you don’t actually qualify for. The fuel tax credit or the research credit are examples of tax credits you more than likely don’t actually qualify for. Make sure you fully understand each tax credit before trying to claim one.

5. Tax Scam Calls

You might receive a phone call from a person claiming to be an IRS agent. These fake IRS agents may even threaten you over the phone with legal action, police arrests, deportation, or license confiscation, but these threats are empty. They are only trying to make you think you are in trouble so that you panic and give them what they want.

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent and trying to do any of the following things, you can rest assured it is a scam and feel free to hang up and block that number.

6. Identity Theft

Some criminals will try and use the tax season to steal identities. One of the primary ways that someone can steal your identity is by getting their hands on your social security number or card. Then they can pretend to be you and try to claim your tax refund.

Keep your personal information safe by never revealing your social security number to anyone, and by keeping your social security card in a safe and secure location. It is also a good idea to memorize your social security number so that you don’t need to carry your card in your wallet where it’s more likely to get stolen.

How to Report a Scam

If you come across a Tax scam or fall prey to one, then you’re going to want to know how to report it.

First, fill out a 14039 form and send it into the IRS.

If you have any other questions about how to report any kind of tax scam you can find the information you need on the IRS website, Tax Scams – How to Report Them.

You can also visit the official website of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Social Security Administration.

How Do I Know If I’ve Been Hacked?

One way to know if you’ve been hacked by a tax scammer is when you have trouble filing your taxes. Tax scammers often try and e-file your taxes before you do in order to snag your refund for themselves. You’ll then be unable to e-file your own taxes because the tax scammer already did it.

So if the IRS denies an e-file be wary, it could be a garden-variety error that you can go back and fix, but you should be able to successfully resubmit it if there was just a minor error.

 

Tax scams may seem scary but once you learn to recognize them, you’ll easily avoid being duped. Just be sure to protect your personal information and always be cautious in all your dealings. It’s always better to be overly safe than to wind up being sorry later.


5 Ways to Protect Your Identity

There are many people who would rather work hard stealing your identity than creating a legitimate one for themselves. Guard yourself from them with these five secrets to protecting your identity.

Check You Credit Regularly

First and foremost, request a free copy of your credit report from the three main sources every year: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Your credit report will show you all open lines of credit in your name, what the balances are for each, as well as number how many are current (meaning you’re keeping up with promised payments) and how many are delinquent (meaning that you have outstanding balances you haven’t paid).

It will also help you take a look at your account history. How well have you been able to pay off your debts in the agreed amount of time? This can help you find issues in your credit that you may or may not have been aware of. Hint: this is a good way to find out if there are any fraudulent credit marks on your name.
Finally, you can find out which creditors are making inquiries on you. You can find the name of the creditor and the date of inquiry to review who’s been taking a look at your credit.

The process is simple, easy, and the reports are even easier to review. Make this a habit for the years to come.

Password Variety

Second, set a long password, make it different for different places to login, and change it often. A password 20 characters in length can be considered just as secure as one 8 characters in length but includes capital letters, numbers, and symbols. They’re also often easier to remember. “Myfirstdogsnameissally” is twenty-two characters long. Breaking that code will take an unnecessary amount of time and you can remember your passwords for once.
Make different passwords for different logins. You can have one junk password for junky logins, but for most of the accounts that directly reflect on you/access your accounts; you’ll want to make them different. That way if someone were to get a hold of your password, they wouldn’t be able to hijack your life.

Change the password often. Every 2 to 5 months is generally advisable. That’s long enough to get good use out of it, but short enough that you can keep others guessing.

Don’t Share Your Information

Third, don’t give your information out so freely. Guard personal identity information closely. Don’t give out private numbers to just anyone. If a legitimate agency is asking for your credit card info, social security information, account number, or any of those things, first identify why they need it, and if they’re a legitimate requester.

Why would any company need your social security number? The only ones that should ask for that information are your employer and select members of the government. Does a retail store need it? How about a shady collection agency that claims you owe them money? Likely not.

The more legitimate requesters will have an obvious reason to need it. If you don’t trust them, give the Social Security Administration a call and ask them what this company would need the number for.

To check if you’re putting the information into the right hands you can ask the SSA to look into it for you. If they show up legitimate, make double sure you’re giving it to the right people. On the internet, this means that you double check the URL.

There have been several bogus IRS sites created to imitate the IRS. You can tell the imposters because only the IRS has control over www.irs.gov/. If that is the opening of your URL address, then you’ll know you’re on the right site. The same applies for any work related inquiry you might have to fill. Make sure that’s the right company website you’re currently asked to fill out info on. A legitimate source shouldn’t ask you to fill in a SSN on an online form, but just in case they do, these are the steps you should take.

Keep Your Information Private

Fourth, be private about your personal information. This includes purchasing things over the internet. Protect all of your information. You never know what a thief could do with something as simple and small as a login and password or a bank account number. There are many ways to try and cheat the system. The best way to avoid falling victim is by privacy.

Hide Your Wallet

Fifth and finally, hide your wallet and financial information. Lock them away somewhere no one can get to. Although you can certainly catch thieves, it’s not worth the hassle and fear of losing a lot in the meantime.
These are five great ways to protect your identity. Guard it carefully and you won’t become one of those stories.

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