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Tax Time and Cybercrime: Scams to Watch Out For

Tax scam. Form with sign on a desk.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Millions of us have gotten our W-2s and we're getting ready to file our taxes. We may be worried about how much we owe, or excited to get our return. The only problem? Scammers know this, and are ready, willing, and able to take advantage of unsuspecting tax payers.

Whether it's impersonating the IRS or impersonating you, cybercriminals will be active this tax season. So here's how to stay safe.

The IRS Is Calling...

For years now, the biggest scam in Internal Revenue Service history has been criminals calling citizens and telling them they owe back taxes, all while pretending to be the IRS. The amount owed in any case may be different, but targets are often threatened with arrests, jail time, or even deportation if they don't pay up. And the only way to pay is by debit or prepaid cards over the phone, or wire transfers. The scam cost taxpayers over $15 million in 2015, and has only gotten worse since. So if someone is demanding tax payment over the phone, hang up and call the IRS directly.

The Refund Loan...

You might also get a call offering you an advance loan on your tax refund. While not necessarily illegal, tax refund loans prey on poor taxpayers, promising instant access to their refund but charging exorbitant fees or up to 600 percent interest. Quick money might sound nice, but you're better off waiting a week or two for that government check and getting all of it, rather than paying most to a predatory lender.

The Refund Hijacking...

Cybercriminals will also try to steal your identity to cash in on your refund. Once such operation used over 300 stolen identities to file their taxes and fraudulently collect their tax returns. The IRS warns taxpayers to be on the lookout for multiple tax returns using your Social Security Number, and to contact them immediately if you think someone has stolen your tax identity.

The Emails Regarding Your W-2...

In a newer spin on tax identity theft, cybercriminals have targeted small businesses as well as schools requesting W-2 information from HR and personnel departments. Once they have the W-2 information, including an employee's or student's name, social security number, and other identifying information. they use that to file their taxes and steal their refund. Make sure your school or boss isn't giving out your W-2 info over email.

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