How to Steer Clear of Tax Season Scams

It’s that time of year again – tax season! Whether you’ve already filed in the hopes of an early refund or have yet to start the process, one thing is for sure: cybercriminals will certainly use tax season as a means to get victims to give up their personal and financial information. This time of year is advantageous for malicious actors since the IRS and tax preparers are some of the few people who actually need your personal data. As a result, consumers are targeted with various scams impersonating trusted sources like the IRS or DIY tax software companies. Fortunately, every year the IRS outlines the most prevalent tax scams, such as voice phishing, email phishing, and fake tax software scams. Let’s explore the details of these threats.

So, how do cybercriminals use voice phishing to impersonate the IRS? Voice phishing, a form of criminal phone fraud, uses social engineering tactics to gain access to victims’ personal and financial information. For tax scams, criminals will make unsolicited calls posing as the IRS and leave voicemails requesting an immediate callback. The crooks will then demand that the victim pay a phony tax bill in the form of a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. In one case outlined by Forbes, victims received emails in their inbox that allegedly contained voicemails from the IRS. The emails didn’t actually contain any voicemails but instead directed victims to a suspicious SharePoint URL. Last year, a number of SharePoint phishing scams occurred as an attempt to steal Office 365 credentials, so it’s not surprising that cybercriminals are using this technique to access taxpayers’ personal data now as well.

In addition to voice phishing schemes, malicious actors are also using email to try and get consumers to give up their personal and financial information. This year alone, almost 400 IRS phishing URLs have been reported. In a typical email phishing scheme, scammers try to obtain personal tax information like usernames and passwords by using spoofed email addresses and stolen logos. In many cases, the emails contain suspicious hyperlinks that redirect users to a fake site or PDF attachments that may download malware or viruses. If a victim clicks on these malicious links or attachments, they can seriously endanger their tax data by giving identity thieves the opportunity to steal their refund. What’s more, cybercriminals are also using subject lines like “IRS Important Notice” and “IRS Taxpayer Notice” and demanding payment or threatening to seize the victim’s tax refund.

Cybercriminals are even going so far as to impersonate trusted brands like TurboTax for their scams. In this case, DIY tax preparers who search for TurboTax software on Google are shown ads for pirated versions of TurboTax. The victims will pay a fee for the software via PayPal, only to have their computer infected with malware after downloading the software. You may be wondering, how do victims happen upon this malicious software through a simple Google search? Unfortunately, scammers have been paying to have their spoofed sites show up in search results, increasing the chances that an innocent taxpayer will fall victim to their scheme.

Money is a prime motivator for many consumers, and malicious actors are fully prepared to exploit this. Many people are concerned about how much they might owe or are predicting how much they’ll get back on their tax refund, and scammers play to both of these emotions. So, as hundreds of taxpayers are waiting for a potential tax return, it’s important that they navigate tax season wisely. Check out the following tips to avoid being spoofed by cybercriminals and identity thieves:

File before cybercriminals do it for you. The easiest defense you can take against tax season schemes is to get your hands on your W-2 and file as soon as possible. The more prompt you are to file, the less likely your data will be raked in by a cybercriminal.

Keep an eye on your credit and your identity. Keeping tabs on your credit report and knowing if your personal information has been compromised in some way can help prevent tax fraud. Together, they can let you know if someone has stolen your identity or if you have personal info on the dark web that could lead to identity theft.

  • Our credit monitoring service can keep an eye on changes to your credit score, report, and accounts with timely notifications and guidance so you can take action to tackle identity theft.
  • Our identity monitoring service checks the dark web for your personal info, including email, government IDs, credit card and bank account info, and more—then provides alerts if your data is found on the dark web, an average of 10 months ahead of similar services.​
  • Beware of phishing attempts. It’s clear that phishing is the primary tactic crooks are leveraging this tax season, so it’s crucial you stay vigilant around your inbox. This means if any unfamiliar or remotely suspicious emails come through requesting tax data, double-check their legitimacy with a manager or the security department before you respond. Remember: the IRS will not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial info. So someone contacts you that way, ignore the message.

Watch out for spoofed websites. Scammers have extremely sophisticated tools that help disguise phony web addresses for DIY tax software, such as stolen company logos and site designs. To avoid falling for this, go directly to the source. Type the address of a website directly into the address bar of your browser instead of following a link from an email or internet search. If you receive any suspicious links in your email, investigating the domain is usually a good way to tell if the source is legitimate or not.

Protect yourself from scam messages. Scammers also send links to scam sites via texts, social media messages, and email. McAfee Scam Protection can help you spot if the message you got is a fake. It uses AI technology that automatically detects links to scam URLs. If you accidentally click, don’t worry, it can block risky sites if you do.

Clean up your personal info online. Crooks and scammers have to find you before they can contact you. After all, they need to get your phone number or email from somewhere. Sometimes, that’s from “people finder” and online data brokers that gather and sell personal info to any buyer. Including crooks. McAfee Personal Data Cleanup can remove your personal info from the data broker sites scammers use to contact their victims.

Consider an identity theft protection solution. If for some reason your personal data does become compromised, be sure to use an identity theft solution such as McAfee Identity Theft Protection, which allows users to take a proactive approach to protect their identities with personal and financial monitoring and recovery tools to help keep their identities personal and secured.

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