Submitting taxes can be a complicated, stressful process, and the sheer volume of paperwork submitted to the IRS each year requires vigilance from accountants and taxpayers alike. As is common during times of financial flurry (like open enrollment and end-of-year holidays), identity thieves capitalize on hectic times of year by sneaking in when your guard is down. And regardless of whether a return is prepared by an individual taxpayer or a tax preparer, taxpayers bear responsibility for the accuracy of submitted tax returns.
Identity thieves commonly use a person’s real Social Security Number to claim wages, file taxes and accept that person’s deserved refund. Then, when the real Social Security Number owner files their taxes, the IRS refuses a refund because, according to the Agency, that person has already received their allotted money.
One way to avoid tax fraud is to stay ahead of cybercriminals and file early. Yet while filing early isn’t always possible, taxpayers can take precautions all tax season long.
Take these steps to help know how to spot a scam and protect yourself from tax fraud:
Validate tax preparers
The confusion of filing tax returns often leads taxpayers to seek help from tax preparers when completing forms. Unfortunately, tax preparers are sometimes criminals in disguise. Never sign a blank tax form, and avoid tax preparers who claim they can deliver a higher refund than others. Choose a well-known tax preparer in your city and ensure that they will be available to answer outstanding questions even after the return is filed.
Don’t give away personally identifiable information
While a smart practice year-round, it is especially important to keep personal information, like your Social Security Number, private during tax season. IRS posers or fake tax agencies may contact taxpayers claiming tax relief services in exchange for a Social Security Number and bank routing number. This is not common practice for legitimate tax entities, and you should never volunteer personal information to strangers.
Maintain a keen eye for scams
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fake emails and false phone calls, commonly known as “phishing scams,” trick taxpayers into thinking they are speaking with a real IRS representative. The IRS will never contact a taxpayer requesting Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers, bank accounts or any other personal information. If a taxpayer has any doubt whether a contact from the IRS is authentic, they should call the IRS customer service toll-free number (1-800-829-1040) to confirm it.
E-Filing is safe, but don’t trust everything you find online
It is standard procedure to search for information online, and taxpayers may be tempted to do this for tax forms as well. However, malicious sites may be disguised as legitimate tax resources and could be infected with malware. Instead, download forms only from governmental sites like www.irs.gov. After your taxes are filed, save them to a flash drive and store it in a safe place. You can also print your completed tax forms and store them securely.