Sidestep Tax Scams With These Tips

It’s tax season, and you’ve probably been subjected to a barrage of tax-related messaging. Some of it may be from the IRS and legitimate tax preparers, but some of it certainly isn’t. It can be hard to sort out what to believe and who to trust.

Maybe you’ve been called by the IRS, and they claim you owe money and need to pay promptly to avoid arrest. Or perhaps you’ve been promised a huge tax refund or considerable tax relief by a tax preparer. If it sounds too good to be true or deceiving, it probably is. Tax scams were BBB’s #1 scam of both 2015 and 2016, and they typically peak during tax season.

During tax season, fraudsters are out to get your personal and financial information. Follow these tips from your BBB to avoid tax scams:

  • The IRS won’t call you demanding immediate payment.
    • In 2016, consumers nationwide reported nearly 8,000 tax scams to BBB Scam Tracker.
    • Sophisticated scammers call taxpayers claiming to be from the IRS. Often, they’ll spoof the caller ID to seem more convincing. They’ll demand payment, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, or claim you have a refund waiting and need your personal information.
    • The IRS won’t ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, and there’s no such thing as a “Federal Student Tax”. If you receive one of these calls, just hang up! For more tips on what to do when the “IRS” calls, click here.
  • The IRS also won’t initiate taxpayer communications through email.
    • Another popular tax scam involves email phishing – the IRS saw a 400% increase in these incidents in the 2016 season. Additionally, consumers reported more than 1,200 phishing scams to BBB Scam Tracker in 2016.
    • Scammers may try to access your personal and financial information by sending you emails from the “IRS”. The emails may contain attachments that carry malware or spyware, so be careful. They may also encourage you to click on links taking you to bogus websites imitating gov that ask for personal information, Social Security Numbers, and financial information.
    • If you receive one of these emails, just delete it! Don’t open any attachments or click on any links, and report it to the IRS by forwarding it to
  • Be wary of tax ID theft.
    • Tax ID theft usually occurs when your identity has already been compromised and is used to file false tax returns. This could happen if your workplace’s payroll or Human Resources department falls victim to a W-2 email phishing scam.
    • You could find out when trying to file tax returns – the IRS rejects your return because another return using your SSN has been filed. You may also receive an IRS notice stating that you’ve received wages from somewhere you never worked, or receive other notices that don’t actually apply to you.
    • If you’re a victim of tax ID theft, continue to pay your taxes and file your return, even if you must do so by paper. Visit gov to file a complaint and learn what to do next.
  • Don’t believe “too-good-to-be-true” propositions.
    • Watch out for official-looking communications claiming to be able to greatly reduce your tax liability or get you a larger-than-life refund. Not all “tax preparers” are created equal, and some are outright fraudsters.
    • Be wary of any tax preparer who claims they can get you a larger return than other preparers, who bases their fees on a percentage of your refund, who asks you to sign a blank tax form or who refuses to provide you a copy of your completed return. Always do your research when finding a tax preparer and be cautious of who you deal with, who’s receiving your personal or financial information and what’s being done on your behalf.
    • Your tax preparer should be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider, and they should have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). You can find a list of trustworthy Accredited Businesses that can prepare your taxes on org.
  • Practice smart cybersecurity.
    • Ensure that any website you’re using is legitimate and secure. Look for the “https:”, other trust marks and a privacy policy. Make sure your computer’s anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware software is up-to-date and running. If you’re filing online, only file from secure computers. Never use public Wi-Fi to file your return.
    • Additionally, look up every tax website you use at org to see its BBB Business Profile, which includes a rating, complaint history and reviews from past customers.

If you’ve been affected by a tax scam, make sure to report it to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others. For more tax resources, check out

Pearl is the Communications Specialist for Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California (BBB Oakland). She works to advance BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other by being proactive in the community and developing relationships with business and consumer groups. Pearl represents BBB at events throughout the Bay Area to educate a wide variety of people. Pearl also manages BBB Oakland’s social media channels.

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Posted in Computers - Internet - Privacy, Consumer Tips, Scams

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