Tax season is in full swing as U.S. Residents and businesses gather up their tax documents and file their returns before the April 15 deadline. It’s also the season for scammers and criminals to brush off their fraud campaigns to swindle you out of your hard-earned money.
According to industry figures, nearly 80 percent of tax documents were filed electronically last year, and that number is not expected to go down anytime soon. Identity theft cases involving tax fraud have also increased 62 percent from last year, according to the IRS.
Just to give an idea of how lucrative these tax schemes are, last summer, a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that more than 1.5 million tax returns filed in 2012 claiming $5.2 billion in tax refunds were potentially fraudulent.
Whether you are going to do your taxes yourself or go to an accountant, file electronically or rely on the U.S. Postal Service, below are some tips to keep you safe from unscrupulous scammers this year.
• The first step is to watch out for tax-related emails in your Inbox or messages on social networking sites. The IRS will not email you or post on your Facebook wall. If you are getting messages via email, it’s most likely a phishing scam, no matter how authentic it may look. Just remember that no legitimate bank or tax preparation service would ask a user to enter sensitive information, such as bank account information or Social Security number, into a pop-up screen or ask for it over email.
• Don’t download documents sent to you via email, either. One click to open the file, and you may wind up with a really hard to remove malware on your computer. Even if you think it’s someone you trust, drop them a call and make sure they actually sent you that file or link before you do anything.
• If you are looking for a specific form or information, don’t hit the search engines. Go to the IRS.gov site and search there instead. Many criminals register addresses with similar names to legitimate sites to lure unsuspecting victims. Any file you get from these fake sites are likely to be malicious.
• The next step is to make sure your tax preparer, whether it’s a company or an online service, is legitimate. The IRS has a list of authorized e-filers. You can also select the online service based on how secure they are, such as offering two-factor authentication and anti-malware services. Any preparation site you wind up using must use SSL encryption—you can check by making sure the address bar has HTTPS, and not the insecure HTTP. Some browsers may display a padlock icon instead. While going through the site, make sure the address stays the same—if it changes, you’ve likely been hijacked and your data is no longer safe.
• Make sure the software running on your computer—the operating system, security software, Web browser, software applications—are all regularly updated and patched. Information-stealing malware crawl the hard drive looking for documents with sensitive information. As soon as you file your tax return, save it onto an external drive or burn it onto a DVD and store it offline in a secure location.
Stay aware and scrutinize everything you do so that you don’t fall for one of those scams.
Beware of Tax Scams and Stay Safe - ZoneAlarm Blog