HOUSTON - The deadline to file your tax return is fast approaching. But watch out: complaints of tax scams are on the rise and scammers are stealing tax refunds.
The Federal Trade Commission says identity theft has tripled since 2018. The IRS and cybersecurity firms are warning about tax scammers filing fraudulent tax returns.
The IRS says to be aware that thieves are stealing personal information and then using it to file their tax returns and steal their refunds.
They're doing it with stolen information from the hacking of many business databases in recent years, as well phishing emails, text messages, and phone calls.
Security firm BrandShield says it has seen hundreds of these in the past few weeks.
The Federal Trade Commission demonstrated how they work in a video:
"They'll call, email, or text you, claiming you owe back taxes or there's a problem with your tax return. They even rig caller ID to make their call look official," the video explains.
"They play on your fears. They threatened to take your driver's license or sue, arrest, or deport you. They want you to pay, fast," the video goes on.
Plus, the IRS and the Identity Theft Resource Center are warning that tax professionals are being targeted with spearfishing scams.
These are emails with links to fake tax prep websites, often featuring the IRS logo and the subject line, "Action Required: Your account has now been put on hold."
When the tax preparer logs in, the scammers steal their credentials and their client's information and then file fraudulent tax returns.
Here are some signs from the IRS that tax fraud could be happening to you:
- You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
- You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created or accessed without your knowledge.
- You receive an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or a refund offset that you weren't expecting.
To protect yourself, the IRS urges taxpayers to file their returns early so that a scammer can't file it for you.
The IRS won't call, text, or email you, so don't give out your personal financial information to anyone.
Choose a tax preparer with a valid IRS Prepare Tax Identification Number, ask for their credentials, and how they'll protect your information. Also, use a long passphrase to secure your account on tax preparation software.