IRS Scams, Taxpayer Scams, Tax Scams, Cybersecurity

Each year, millions of people fall victim to IRS scams—aggressive scams designed to frighten and fool taxpayers into giving up money and/or private information that can lead to identity theft. There are a wide variety of IRS scams, and some of them can be quite sophisticated. But with a bit of knowledge and some basic cybersecurity measures, you can more easily recognize tax scams and protect yourself from them.

What is an IRS Scam?

Scammers have many tactics they utilize throughout the year to get individuals such as yourself to part with their sensitive information or their money. At tax time, IRS scams are in abundance, and the scammers can often be particularly convincing. Everyone, from ordinary consumers to high-ranking professionals, falls victim to tax scams, losing millions of dollars as a result.

Essentially, an IRS scam entails contact with you either via phone or email. The scammer pretends to be an employee from the IRS and proceeds to tell you that you either owe money in taxes and must pay immediately to avoid being arrested, or that you need to provide information in order for the IRS to update their records.

Of course, these are merely sophisticated attempts to acquire money or sensitive information that can be used for identity theft.

Types of Taxpayer Scams

Those unscrupulous individuals who engage in IRS scams do so by phone, online via email or fake websites, and even through fake charities. Here are some of the common ways you might be contacted:

  • You receive a call by someone identifying themselves as an official from the IRS. They’ll know your name and quite possibly a few other details about you. Then they will typically claim that you owe money to the IRS for a variety of reasons, such as a failure to pay back taxes or penalties for not providing the proper information related to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Regardless of the claims, the “official” will operate on scare tactics—aggressively stating that if you don’t make an immediate payment you could be arrested or face other strict penalties and punishment. They will ask for payment through a debit card, gift, or wire transfer, or may even ask you for credit card information and other financial details.
  • To make the tax scams even more convincing, scammers will spoof phone numbers to make it appear that they are actually calling from the IRS, provide you with an IRS badge number, or craft an official-looking email and fake website that looks just like the real IRS website.
  • Email tax scams are also rather sophisticated. The initial contact can be related to your tax refund or filing status, or another related matter. The email will also attempt to frighten you into action which typically involves clicking on a link to go to the “IRS website” (actually a clever-crafted fake).
  • Clicking on the link can have you unknowingly downloading malware onto your computer that hackers can use to access your sensitive information. The fake website will also require you to enter personal and sensitive information that hackers can also use to great advantage.
  • Lastly, some IRS scams are also run via the mail. You’ll receive official-looking documentation that once again engages in scare tactics, requiring you to contact someone to provide sensitive information or make a payment to avoid arrest and penalties.

How to Protect Yourself From IRS Scams

It’s actually fairly easy to make sure you don’t fall victim to these tax scams; you simply need to practice some basic cybersecurity:

Use Antivirus Software on Your Devices

Make sure you have antivirus software installed on all your computers, laptops, tablets, phone and other mobile devices. This will significantly reduce the risk of hackers being able to access your sensitive information via malware and spyware.

Use Strong Password & MultiFactor Authentication

Use strong passwords for all accounts (separate passwords for each account). Passwords should be 12+characters and use a mixture of numbers, letters, and special characters. We recommend using a password manager/vault to securely store and manage your passwords.  Additionally, turn on two-step authentication if it is available for all your accounts. Two-step is an added security measure that, in addition to entering your username and password, requires you to enter a code/pin sent via text message to you in order to access your account.

Carefully Review IRS Related Communications & Protect Your SSN

Examine any documents you receive in the mail very closely for spelling and grammar errors—typically a dead giveaway of an IRS scam. Email messages might also look suspicious, and never click on any links in an email message from the “IRS”. Be skeptical of IRS calls, and do continue talking with a “pushy” IRS agent. Lastly, never give out sensitive information such as your social security number over the phone—a real IRS agent will never ask for it.

Also, it might help you to know that the real IRS will never actually contact you in any of the ways described in the taxpayer scams above. They will contact you via the mail, but the documents will not demand immediate and specific methods of payment like the scammers will. And in the rare event that an official from the IRS does call, they will not be aggressive or intimidating, and they will not threaten you with arrest.

What to Do If You Think You’ve Become a Victim?

If you believe someone has stolen your identity and is filing tax returns in your name, you will want to report that as soon as possible. Additionally, you can report any possible scams you receive to the appropriate authorities; information about reporting tax scams can be found on the IRS website.

If you have any additional questions or concerns about taxpayer scams, contact BLACKCLOAK. Our team is here and ready to provide you with the advice and guidance you need.