With the 2020 tax season underway, fraudsters may be altering their tactics to scam you out of your money and personal information. During this time of year, scammers target individuals and small business owners through the mail, telephone or email. Fraudsters often pose as representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, the actual IRS will never initiate contact with you via email, social media or text messages. The IRS will never call you to demand immediate payment without prior written notice, nor will a member of the agency demand payment without offering you the right of an appeal. When scam artists pose as tax preparers or another type of organization, their tactics may be more challenging to identify.
Be aware of these five common 2020 tax scams to avoid getting cheated when filing your 2019 taxes this season:
1. Return preparer fraud
Early warning sign: The tax preparer recently opened the business, or only operates during tax season. Legitimate tax preparers are available all year.
Fraudulent tax preparers attempt to increase their fee requests or gain access to personal information by misleading taxpayers. Dealing with the fallout of working with an imposter can waste weeks or months and cause a significant amount of financial distress.
Consider these tips when looking for a tax preparer:
- Ask for the preparer’s IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
- Use the official IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers to find qualified professionals.
- Never give a preparer your social security number (SSN) or tax documents if you’re only inquiring about fees and services.
- Never sign an incomplete tax return.
If you’re unsure about the kind of tax preparer you need, use the official resources from the IRS to help you make your selection.
2. Padding deductions on returns
Early warning sign: The tax preparer encourages you to overstate deductions such as medical expenses to increase your refund.
An unscrupulous tax preparer may encourage you to falsely inflate your deductions or credits to increase your return or lower your tax bill and increase their take of the return. The scammer has disappeared by the time this activity triggers an IRS audit, leaving you with the consequences.
If a tax preparer suggests that you include information on your tax return that is false or only partially accurate, you may want to report them to the IRS. The penalties for filing an erroneous or frivolous tax return can be severe and may include criminal prosecution of both preparer and payer.
If you doubt the accuracy of your return, tax software can ensure you only claim tax benefits that you’re entitled to receive. Taxpayers with a gross income of $69,000 and below can e-file for free.
3. IRS impersonators
Early warning sign: Someone claiming to represent the IRS calls you unexpectedly and aggressively demands immediate payment.
Phone scammers call their victims and use intimidating language to coerce people into sending payment before they have a chance to determine if the request is real. Generally, these scam calls will come without prior warning. The scammer claims to represent the IRS and demands immediate payment in the form of a wire transfer, gift card or prepaid debit card.
The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency stipulate a specific payment method. Likewise, legitimate requests from the IRS will come with an advanced warning and will only ever ask that you send payments to the U.S. Treasury.
4. Fraudulent charities
Early warning sign: The charity asks for your SSN or similar identifying information to process your donation.
Around tax season, fraudsters often impersonate charitable organizations to lure taxpayers into providing personal information or money. These scammers may claim to represent a legitimate charity, or they may create fake websites that look real.
As a general rule, you should never give anyone your Social Security number or banking account passwords—with very few exceptions. Likewise, you should never send cash donations to any organization because it’s difficult to document those transactions.
When in doubt, use the official Tax Exempt Organization Search to find legitimate charities.
5. “Tax transcript” phishing
Early warning sign: Someone claiming to represent the IRS emails you directly.
One of the most common tax scams from 2019 is likely to make a comeback in 2020. In this scheme, victims, who are typically small-business owners, receive an email claiming to come from the IRS. The email contains an attachment labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar. However, the attachment is a piece of malicious software that infects a computer or network.
The IRS never sends unsolicited emails to taxpayers. Treat any unexpected email you receive from someone posing as the IRS with extreme caution. Do not open the attachment for any reason. You can report the email by forwarding it to [email protected].
Fraudsters are active all year, so it’s essential to remain vigilant even after you’ve received this year’s tax return. Find more security tips on how to protect your assets and your identity here.