Who loves tax season besides accountants? Hackers
It’s tax time in the United States, and even if you’re pretty sure you did everything right, you’re worried. Did I file correctly? Did I claim the right deductions? Will I get audited? Unfortunately, tax season brings out scammers eager to take advantage of your anxiety.
The tax scam landscape
First, know that you’re probably doing a good job with your taxes. Less than 2% of returns get audited and most discrepancies or adjustments can get handled easily if you address them promptly.
Still, wariness of the IRS and intricate tax laws makes for ripe pickings when it comes to hackers, who prey on people’s fear of audits and penalties. Common scams include fake emails, phone calls from crooks posing as IRS agents, and even robocalls that threaten jail time. With the information they get from you, hackers can take things a step further by stealing your identity and filing tax claims in your name.
As if we didn’t have enough to worry about at tax time.
The good news is that you have plenty of ways to protect yourself from hackers. Check out these tips to stay safe this tax season.
The IRS Dirty Dozen: 12 tax-season scams
Straight from the authority itself, the IRS has published its top 12 tax season scams with new warnings brought on by the events of 2020.
For example, new to this year are scams associated with stimulus checks sent out by the government. The IRS says they have seen “… a tremendous increase in phishing schemes utilizing emails, letters, texts and links. These phishing schemes are using keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “Stimulus” in various ways.”
This is very important: The IRS does not use email. If you get an email from someone saying they are the IRS and they want to talk with you about a problem, it is a scam.
Here’s what the IRS has to say:
The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a tax bill, refund, or Economic Impact Payments. Don’t click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Be wary of emails and websites − they may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information.
Social media attacks also made the IRS Dirty Dozen. In a social media attack, scammers harvest information from social media profiles. Hackers use the information to gain access to your online accounts in social media and beyond, like your bank account. Make it hard for them. Make your social media profiles private so that only friends and family can see them. Also consider so you can be safer from these kinds of crimes.
Get an email or call from the IRS? Here’s how to know if it was legit.
When a hacker poses as an IRS agent, they try to get personal information from you, like your social security number. They might demand payment, sometimes under the threat of penalties or even jail time. These strong-arm tactics are a dead giveaway that the email or phone call is fake.
What will the IRS do? Usually, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. IRS collection employees might call on the phone or make an unannounced visit to your home or business. If they require a payment, the payment will always be to the U.S. Treasury. Read about other ways to know what the IRS won’t do when they contact you.
And remember: the IRS does not use email to contact you about tax problems.
File A.S.A.P. and check your credit report
A good defense is a good offense. File early. Protect yourself by filing your claim before they have a chance to file one as you. You don’t want to be one of those identity theft victims who finds out you’ve been scammed when you file your taxes only to get a notice in the mail saying your tax claim has already been filed.
Here’s other tool that can help you fight identity theft. And get this: it’s not only helpful, it’s free. Through the Federal Trade Commission, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies once every 12 months. In this report, you can find inaccuracies in your credit or evidence of all-out identity theft.
Keep in mind that you get one report from each of the reporting companies each year. That works out to three reports total in one year. Consider this: if you request one report from one credit reporting company every four months, you can spread you free credit report coverage across the whole year.
Security software can help you protect your digital wellness
The idea is that, just like with your physical wellness, there are lots of steps you can take to protect your digital wellness. We’ve covered some of those steps in this blog. Consider one more: protect your digital life with a holistic security solution like McAfee Total Protection so you can enjoy life online knowing your precious data is protected. Tax time or otherwise, security software is always a smart move.
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