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Steer clear of IRS imposter scams

Learn to spot scams and avoid tax fraud.

Imposter scams that lead to tax fraud and identity theft typically increase during tax season and times of crisis. This year is no exception with new scams related to economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow these tips to help avoid common and emerging scams. 

Scam #1: Phishing

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reports that phishing schemes are a continuing problem. Phishing is an attempt to obtain a payment or sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and account details by scammers impersonating a reputable company or government agency through an email, text message, or social media post. Once acquired, your information can be used to access your account, apply for benefits or refunds in your name, and steal money.

Be on the lookout for IRS imposter scams that offer assistance with Economic Impact Payments (stimulus payments), request payment for overdue taxes, or require you to verify your personal information. In a recent stimulus payment scam, taxpayers are receiving text messages with a link to a phishing website that impersonates the IRS.gov Get My Payment site. See example below:

You have received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 TREAS FUND. Further action is required to accept this payment into your account. Continue here to accept this payment…

Those who visit the fraudulent website are prompted to enter their personal and account information, which can be used to commit fraud.

What you should know :

  • If you receive an unsolicited email or text claiming to be from the IRS, do not: reply, click any links, or open attachments, which may contain malicious software. Be especially cautious of communications that reference “COVID-19” or “stimulus,” including promises of assistance, requests for charitable contributions, notices of outstanding tax payments due, or requests to verify personal or account information.
  • Do not provide passwords, account numbers, or personal information in response to emails, texts, or social media. The IRS does not send unsolicited texts or emails and will not ask for personal or account information through digital communications. In addition, neither the IRS nor state agencies will text taxpayers asking for account information to make a stimulus payment deposit.
  • If you are a Wells Fargo customer and respond to a suspicious message by clicking a link, opening an attachment, or providing personal information, call us immediately at 1-866-867-5568

Scam #2: Fraudulent phone calls

Scammers, posing as the IRS, call claiming you owe taxes. They may demand that you settle the bogus tax bill by sending money through a gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer. Alternately, an imposter may call offering to assist with COVID-related benefits payments and ask you to provide personal or account information in order to receive a payment.

What you should know :

Do not engage in conversation if the caller: 

  • Demands immediate payment or offers to assist you with receiving a payment
  • Uses aggressive tactics, such as threatening arrest, deportation, or license revocation
  • Requests credit, debit, or bank account numbers

Even if the caller has the last four digits of your Social Security number or other identifiable information, do not share any additional information.

If you are uncomfortable with a request on a phone call that you did not initiate, do not respond. Instead, hang up immediately and contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 to confirm the validity of the request. If you think it is a scam, you can also report it by calling TIGTA or online at www.tigta.gov.

Know that the IRS will not:

  • Ask you to pay your taxes using a gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer.
  • Threaten to immediately have you arrested or deported for not paying.
  • Initiate contact with you or request sensitive information by email, text, or social media.

If you owe taxes, the IRS will contact you by mail before attempting to call you. You are not required to pay without the opportunity to question or appeal your tax bill.

Scam #3: Identity theft

Scammers steal your personal and financial information for illegal or fraudulent activities, like filing a tax return in your name.

One growing identity theft scam involves criminals stealing client data from tax professionals or directly from you by obtaining your tax software login information, filing a fraudulent tax return and having the refund deposited into a bank account. Then they use various methods to demand that you return the money to them.

In one version, the scammers, pretending to be IRS debt collectors, contact you claiming a refund was deposited in error. Then they ask you to forward the money to their “collection agency”.

In another variant, you receive an automated phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS threatening you with criminal charges, an arrest warrant, and a “blacklisting” of your Social Security number if you do not return the refund. The caller then gives you a case number and phone number to call to return the money.

If you received an erroneous refund, find out how to legally return it.

What you should know:

  • Use a unique username and password for tax filing software, and update them at least annually. File taxes early to prevent others from filing a fraudulent return in your name.
  • Do not share your Social Security number with others unless absolutely necessary.
  • Shred sensitive documents before discarding.
  • Avoid storing personal or account information on your computer or mobile devices.
  • Review your credit report every year to confirm that the list of credit accounts is accurate. You can receive a free copy of your report every 12 months from each of the credit reporting agencies, as well as AnnualCreditReport.com.

Take action if you fall for a tax scam

  • Contact your financial institution to close any affected accounts.
  • Report identity theft to IdentityTheft.gov and follow the steps to obtain your personalized recovery plan. 
  • If your Social Security number is stolen, contact the IRS.
  • File a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant.

For more information about the latest scams, review the IRS’ “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.

For additional tips to help protect yourself from fraud, visit the Security Center.

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