How to avoid falling victim to cyber criminals during tax season

NORFOLK, Va. - Tax season is upon us and millions of Americans could be vulnerable to cyber attacks and cyber criminals this year.

Cyber security professionals say the enormous amounts of valuable personal and financial information shared online this time of year makes it especially lucrative for hackers.

The Equifax data breach last year exposed information about more than 145 million Americans - including names, addresses, birthdates and Social Security numbers.

“Hackers are masters of social engineering, so when there is increased potential for having your most personal data exposed, it’s critically important to take steps to use the internet safely and more securely. Remember that Personal Information Is Like Money. Value It. Protect It. Practicing good cyber security –when preparing your tax returns and all year round –empowers internet users to reap the benefits of connectivity with greater confidence," explained Russ Schrader, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

The National Cyber Security Alliance and the Identity Theft Resource Center have partnered to keep people safe during the tax season with information on how to identify cyber scams and what to do if you fall victim to one.

Scams targeting taxpayers

IRS-IMPERSONATION PHONE SCAMS

Callers claiming to be IRS employees – using fake names and phony IRS ID numbers – may ring you and insist that you owe money and it must be paid as soon as possible through a gift card or wire service. If the call is not picked up, the scammers often leave an emergency callback request message. The real IRS will not call you and demand immediate payment; in general, it will mail you a bill if you owe money.

MARKED INCREASE IN PHISHING, EMAIL AND MALWARE SCHEMES

Cyber criminals will try to get you to do something so they can steal your personal information. Watch out for unsolicited emails, text messages, social media posts or fake websites that may prompt you to click on a link or to share valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, online thieves can pilfer funds and/or commit identity theft. And unfamiliar links or attachments can contain malware – viruses, spyware and other unwanted software that gets installed on your computer or mobile device without your consent – which can infect your computer files if opened.

FRAUDULENT TAX RETURNS

The FTC strongly recommends trying to file your tax return as soon as possible. The IRS only accepts one tax return per Social Security number. If the file is yours and it’s in early, it becomes impossible for a fraudster to submit another return with your personal information. It’s also important to always use smart practices with your personal information. Remember to only share your Social Security number when it’s absolutely necessary. Check your credit report regularly for shady activity, and never throw papers with critical information – like your Social Security number or bank account information – in the trash. It’s best to shred all paper containing personal data.

TAX PREPARER FRAUD

The overwhelming majority of tax preparers provide honest services, but some unsavory individuals may target unsuspecting taxpayers and the result can be refund fraud and/or identity theft. The IRS reminds anyone filing a tax return that their preparer must sign it with their IRS preparer identification number.

If you think you've fallen victim to tax identity theft 

  • If you suspect identity theft: If you think you have tax issues related to identity theft, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU) at 1-800-908-4490.
  • File an ID theft affidavit: You can document the identity theft by submitting a police report and the IRS ID Theft Affidavit (Form 14039)
  • Contact your state tax organization: Your state taxes may be affected as well.
  • Document your case: Download the free ID Theft Help app from ITRC to track your case as you go through the resolution process.
  • Call the ITRC: You can receive no-cost assistance from a victim advisor by calling 1-888-400-5530.