The IRS– yes, the government entity you love to hate in the month of April– has released its list of the most popular scams aimed at those already stressed enough during tax season. Hailed as a ‘second Christmas’ for hackers, this time of year provides ample opportunity to prey on the insecurities of those in a rush to get those W-2’s and 1099’s in before the tax reaper shows his face to subsidize income as he does every year.
Identity Theft tops the list, as it so often does, through a combination of Email, fraudulent websites, phone calls, faxes and even tweets. Trying to avoid the now common tactic of persuading victims to visit a website, the scams are now suggesting that those looking to claim a refund simply fax a copy of their ID. Most would think that relying on an ever increasingly antiquated technology such as a fax would raise an eyebrow, but alas– no dice. To the IRS’ credit, in 2012 they prevented approximately $20 billion in bogus returns related to identity theft. Now try to wrap your head around the amount of bogus returns they were unable to prevent.
Email Phishing is something we try to inform as many as possible about, as it is usually the first form of contact and breach by deviant professionals you’ve never met before in the world world wide web. You can simplify your existence and the prevalence of threats by remembering one paramount rule: Government entities, Banks and all other manner of important institution will never ask for personal/financial information by email. This is by far the biggest mistake that users fall into the minute they open an Email account. While having spam blockers and junk mail folders helps to greatly reduce the amount of fraudulent Email received, you simply cannot rely on this functionality to keep you safe. We constantly receive comments along the lines of “Well, why didn’t the spam blocker find this?” and the quickest explanation is ‘because no machine that is run by a routine is better than the naked eye’. That simple fact will never change.
Another still popular scam involves being a good old-fashioned crook. Be wary of who prepares your taxes, be it friend of the family, town drunkard, dog or third cousin(once removed). You should only use a preparer who signs their returns and uses an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTINs).
Lowest on the totem pole of moral fiber are “Free Money” scams, deployed by simple flyers at places such as community churches and retirement homes. These prey on low-income and elderly tax payers, offering a return with little to no documentation. The government will probably never reach the day where a return can be made without reading a book’s worth of fine print and forms. Find a way to find solace in this fact and use it to make intelligent decisions regarding your information.
For the verbose breakdown of the dirty dozen for the year, head on over to the IRS’ webpage and take a gander for yourself. Stay safe this tax season, and stay wary for the rest of April Fool’s Day!