The Federal Trade Commission defines phishing as “…when a scammer uses fraudulent communications to get you to share valuable personal information—such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, logins and passwords. They can also install malware programs through fake emails.”1
During tax season, the IRS reports seeing a large spike in the number of phishing and malware (software that can weaken your computer’s security) incidents. Thieves are continuously evolving their tactics to try to confuse taxpayers during filing season. Beyond taxpayers, thieves are also targeting schools and tax, payroll and human resources professionals.
We’ll examine some prevalent phishing schemes and signs that your personal information may have been compromised and used in a tax fraud scheme. Learn more about keeping your personal data safe and secure.
In email schemes, thieves may pose as a person or organization that the taxpayer recognizes and trusts. Or they might hack into an email account and send mass emails under another person’s name. They might pose as a bank, credit card company, a software provider or government agency. These scammers might even create fake websites that look legitimate, hoping to fool people into logging in and thereby learning their passwords.
"These email schemes continue to evolve and can fool even the most cautious person. Email messages can look like they come from the IRS or others in the tax community,” says IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should avoid opening surprise emails or clicking on web links claiming to be from the IRS. Don’t be fooled by unexpected emails about big refunds, tax bills or requesting personal information. That’s not how the IRS communicates with taxpayers.”2
The IRS publishes Tax Tips throughout the year—both in print and digital—covering a wide range of tax topics. The following is adapted from one of their articles and lists the most common signs of identity theft.3
Signs that you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft include:
If you’ve suffered identity theft involving taxes, contact the IRS immediately and report your situation. More information about tax-related identity theft can be found at Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance as well as the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft – all on IRS.gov.
1Phishing, July 2017, Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0003-phishing.
2Phishing Schemes Lead the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for 2017; Remain Tax-Time Threat, February 1, 2017, Internal Revenue Service, https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/phishing-schemes-lead-the-irs-dirty-dozen-list-of-tax-scams-for-2017-remain-tax-time-threat.
3RS, states, industry urge taxpayers to learn signs of identity theft, January 3, 2017, IRS Taxes. Security. Together. Tax Tip Number 11, Internal Revenue Service, https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-states-industry-urge-taxpayers-to-learn-signs-of-identity-theft.
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Updated for tax year 2020
Updated for tax year 2019