The deadline for individual tax returns is approaching – unless you get an extension from the IRS, this year’s returns will be due by April 17th. The deadline is sooner than later, and this is the time when scammers become very active. Criminals know that if you’ve waited that long to file your tax return you are probably under time-pressure right now, and prone to make impulsive decisions – they want to take advantage of your situation.
Troublemakers are fully aware that when people are under time-pressure, regular taxpayers are susceptible to make irrational decisions and not be as careful as they are supposed to. This is why here at Panda Security we’ve decided to create a top five tips on how to stay safe during tax season.
Top five tips on how to stay safe during tax season
Ignore the IRS scam calls
One of the most popular tax-scams are the calls we all get from people claiming to be from the IRS. They usually threaten you with a lawsuit or an arrest and require immediate payment. Keep in mind that IRS never calls you out of the blue and if they wanted to get you touch with you, they would have sent you multiple letters before they pick-up the phone to call you.
If you are not expecting a call from the IRS, the person on the other side of the phone claiming to be an IRS officer is most likely a fraud. If you get such a call, it is important not to engage at all and resist the pressure to act quickly. Instead of panicking go ahead and report the contact to TIGTA at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta by clicking on the red button, “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting.”
Beware of phishing emails
Arguably the second most popular IRS related scam that flourishes every Aprils is the phishing campaigns executed by cybercriminals. As you know phishing scams are typically carried out through unsolicited email and websites that pose as legitimate sites and rely on luring unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information. If you have antivirus software installed on all your connected device those emails will not even reach you.
However, you always have to be extra careful and not to open unsolicited emails. If a suspicious email makes it to your inbox, just delete it without opening it or clicking on any links in it. IRS also encourages everyone who receives such emails to forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We know that there isn’t that much time until the individual tax return deadline, but this is not a good excuse to believe that you’ve somehow miraculously qualified for an immediate IRS tax relief. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. If someone claiming to be from the IRS is on the phone demanding personal information such as your Social Security Number, just hang up.
Avoid giving them information by just not letting them communicate with you anymore. Scammers do not deserve your time explaining why you are not feeling confident into sharing personal information with them – just stop talking to them, block the number and continue with your day. If you are concerned about IRS and that you might owe them something, you can call them directly on a contact number listed on https://www.irs.gov/ or get in touch with a tax advisor.
Keep your information secure
While personal information such as DOB, address, cell number and full name can easily be found online, your Social Security Number isn’t readily available on online directory service providers such as White Pages. Avoid sharing your full SSN over the phone with anyone unless necessary and always keep all documents that have it, such as W2, safely locked in a secure place at home or on a connected device secured with antivirus software.
Keeping an eye on your credit report is a good practice too. Making sure there are no irregularities on your credit report will mean that institutions that hold your sensitive information are doing an excellent job protecting it from cyber criminals.
Don’t wait until the end
Filing your tax returns early guarantees you quicker tax refunds! Yes, you do not have to wait until the end of April to get your returns, you can do it as soon as mid-January and get an almost instant payback from the IRS. The longer you wait, the more prone you will be to be lured by a criminal. Bear in mind that filing your taxes early not only allows you to get the money you are owed but also gives you more time to pay any taxes you might owe. By knowing how much you owe to Uncle Sam, you will be able to create a better game plan, avoid penalties, and deal with your debt without the need to file for a tax extension. The chances of becoming a victim of identity theft also decrease significantly when you submit early.
Over the last couple years, we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of major data leaks. The information of millions of Americans is probably still up for grabs on the dark web. Staying safe in this digital world could be tricky and making sure all your connected devices are secured with anti-virus software is a must. The only way to keep yours and your families’ identities intact is to prevent them from getting stolen in a first place.