Last updated on May 9, 2021
Tax-related scams can lurk year-round but you may be more likely to encounter one during a tax season when you’re expecting W-2s and other tax documents. Learn how to recognize possible traps and protect yourself so you’re less likely to become a victim.
Phishing emails will often impersonate ADP, one of the largest HR and payroll companies in the world. An email will often offer a link to download a W-2 form, but by clicking the email link you may land on a spoofed ADP login page.
Phishing emails that impersonate the IRS or a tax professional may remind users to file their taxes or verify personal information, or offer to provide information about their refund.
If you do click on a link in an email, there’s always a chance that doing so will infect your computer with malware — and any information you input through these links can be used to steal your identity.
There’s no perfect way to tell if any email related to your taxes is a trap. The best advice is not to click any links in any email. In the case of the IRS, or any large company/bank, go to the website on your own and log in from there, or look for the contact number on the official website.
Threatening Phone Calls
Phone calls could come from a person or an automated robo-caller claiming to be the IRS. They may threaten fraud charges, an arrest warrant, and a “blacklisted” Social Security Number (SSN). Messages often include a case number and phone number they tell the victim to use to return the refund deposited in error.
In similar schemes, a scammer may file the fake return but the victim doesn’t find out until they try to file their real tax return and it’s rejected as a duplicate filing.
Remember, any communication related to your taxes has the potential to be fraudulent. Your best bet is to hang up and call back using the correct phone number listed on the IRS.gov website (https://www.irs.gov).
How to Prevent Tax and ID Theft
The FTC advises consumers to follow these guidelines for protection from tax identity theft throughout the year:
- Always protect your Social Security number (SSN). Know exactly who you’re sharing it with and why.
- File your tax return as early as possible.
- Make sure your internet connection/computer is secure if filing electronically, or take your paper tax return to the post office and mail it from there.
- Don’t hand over personal information without thoroughly researching a tax preparer.
- Keep an eye on your credit report. Check it for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. And make sure no accounts have been opened in your name.
- The IRS will never call you and demand money. They’ll send a notice by mail if you need to take action. This article explains how the IRS initiates contact with taxpayers.
- If a fraudulent tax return is filed in your name and deposited to your bank account, use these IRS instructions for returning a tax return you weren’t expecting.
- This FTC page covers everything you need to know about protecting yourself from tax identity theft.