IRS Warns of 400% Spike in Online Tax Scams

Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
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IRS Warns of 400% Spike in Online Tax Scams

By Craig Smalley

Learn more about Craig on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

A client recently forwarded me an email that appeared to be from the Internal Revenue Service. Due to a problem directly depositing a refund into my client’s account, could he please click this link to resolve the matter? Clicking the link sent you to an official-looking site where you were to enter your bank account information and Social Security number.

Not so fast — this was a phishing scam, something taxpayers must be hyper-vigilant about this tax season. According to the IRS, scammers are back in full force this year, with schemes designed to trick taxpayers into forfeiting sensitive information that the scammers can use to steal money or file false tax returns.

‘Dramatic’ jump in scams

The IRS recently warned taxpayers about a “dramatic” 400% jump in online scams at the beginning of the year. According to the agency, there were 1,026 incidents of phishing and malware reported in January alone. By mid-February, that number had reached 1,389, about half the number of incidents reported for all of 2015 (2,748) and topping 2014’s total of 1,361.

The IRS notes that recent scams have referred to the following topics in email subject lines or text:

  • Your tax refund
  • Updating your filing details, which can include references to W-2s
  • Confirming your personal information
  • Getting your IP (identity protection) PIN
  • Getting your e-file PIN
  • Ordering a transcript
  • Completing your tax return information

>> MORE: The fastest way to get your tax refund

What taxpayers should know

As scammers rely on the same email techniques they’ve used for years, you should know that the IRS does not send emails to communicate with taxpayers. Be wary of communications from any party claiming to be the IRS.

As IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in the warning, the dramatic jump in scams comes during the agency’s busiest time of year — tax season. Many people have filed or are getting ready to file their tax returns, and because taxes are top of mind, they don’t consider an email from the IRS as out of the ordinary. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Remember, the IRS will never send you an email. It doesn’t send emails even to tax professionals, nor are we allowed to send emails to the IRS. You can, of course, file your taxes online, but if the IRS needs to contact you, it will do so via snail mail, fax or phone. The IRS won’t send you an email asking you to correct something on your tax return or provide your bank account information over the Internet. If you receive an email requesting you to do so, delete it.

>> MORE: How to file taxes online

Be on the lookout

Furthermore, though the IRS does communicate about tax issues via phone call, it won’t call you to demand payment and will never ask you to pay your tax bill using a prepaid Visa card — these are other scams my clients have experienced. Taxpayers should be cautious and on the lookout for these common tax scams.

Despite all the publicity that hackers and fraudsters have received over the past few years, they are still using the same old schemes. Email phishing scams have been around for at least 15 years — don’t fall for them this year. Delete any emails that appear to have been sent from the IRS, and if you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, visit the IRS’ resources online.

Craig Smalley is an enrolled agent and the founder of CWSEAPA LLP and Tax Crisis Center LLC.

This article also appears on Nasdaq.


Image via iStock.