It’s tax time. That means it’s time to get your papers in order and be aware of scams that can come at you like a game of Whack-a-mole.
Scammers love tax time because they know people are scared of getting into trouble with the IRS. But many fraudsters are using tactics the IRS would never use, making them easy to spot. The key is to be aware.
“Cybercriminals are constantly becoming more clever in their tactics—whether they’re impersonating IRS agents or crafting phishing emails—and unfortunately, innocent people are falling into their traps,” said Angela Gillespie, Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering officer at BOK Financial®.
Just last year, people in the U.S. lost nearly 40 billion dollars to scammers, and that’s just in phone scams. “Fraud is a silent crime,” said Gillespie. “When you look at the rise in overall attempts on banks and associated costs, it’s staggering.”
It’s important to recognize and be mindful of ongoing scams to protect yourself from identity theft and safeguard your personal information, especially during tax season, Gillespie said.
Here are a few of the tax scams to have on your radar:
Ever notice how a text message instantly gets your attention? Scammers know this too, which is why they often send fake messages with links that claim to be valid IRS websites. Just make sure you don’t click that link, Gillespie warns. “The IRS doesn’t use text messages to discuss individual tax information.”
Unless you have your privacy settings turned up, your social media accounts are open for fraudsters to send you messages. Just like text messages, they may claim to be from the IRS, which are actually spoofed accounts. Gillespie said people should be cautious if they receive tax-related messages via social media platforms. These are not used by the IRS.
Cybercriminals often send emails that look legit with IRS look-a-like logos that appear official. The tipoff that it’s a fraud is the email is requesting personal or financial information. Never click on any links or open attachments in unexpected emails, and report any suspicious content directly to the IRS.
The average person receives about 31 spam calls per month. But scammers know when they mention the IRS, people tend to listen because they’re fearful they owe taxes or made a mistake on their form. The fraudster may use a victim’s name and give a fake employee title to sound official in impersonating an IRS representative. They can even alter caller ID numbers to look more legitimate. The tipoff it’s a fake is if the caller tries to threaten or bully a victim into paying a fraudulent tax bill or asks for immediate cash payment, wire transfers or debit card information by phone.
“If the IRS needs to contact you, they won’t leave a pre-recorded, threatening message. While there are times that the IRS will call, you would likely have received several official letters ahead of the call,” said Gillespie.
If you think you may owe the IRS, view your balance online or contact the IRS directly to confirm.
Unemployment fraud scams
Scammers often try to use unemployment as a way to make quick cash, filing claims under names and personal information they’ve obtained fraudulently.
Unfortunately, many victims of unemployment fraud don’t realize they’ve been victimized until tax time when they receive specific tax forms detailing unemployment benefits they never filed for or collected.
If you receive a 1099-G form that’s incorrect or for benefits you didn’t receive, follow the steps outlined on the Department of Labor website to report suspected unemployment fraud.
Tax-related identity theft
Many discover they’re a victim of identity theft when they file their tax return, only to find out that one has already been filed with the same Social Security number. The IRS recommends taking these steps if you suspect you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft.
“Tax-related or not, it’s crucial that individuals continually monitor their personal accounts for any suspicious activity,” said Gillespie. She recommends requesting and reviewing your credit report annually, which you can obtain from the credit bureaus for free. “If you see accounts you don’t recognize on your credit report or spot unfamiliar transactions, you might consider taking steps to report and develop a recovery plan for identity theft.”
Experts recommend remaining vigilant of suspicious communications that come to you at all times—especially during tax season.
Learn more about BOK Financial's online security or call 844-517-3308 to report suspicious activity on BOK Financial-related accounts. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also keeps an up-to-date list of current threats.