The Dirty Dozen: Beware of Scammers during Tax Season

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has warned taxpayers to be vigilant against email and text scams during tax season. In the annual Dirty Dozen campaign, the IRS has issued a warning about phishing and smishing schemes where scammers try to steal taxpayers’ information through scam emails or text messages. 

The Dirty Dozen is an annual IRS list of 12 scams and schemes that put taxpayers and the tax professional community at risk of losing money and personal data.

Phishing and Smishing Scams

Taxpayers and tax professionals should be on alert for fake communications posing as legitimate organizations in the tax and financial community, including the IRS and state tax organizations. These messages arrive in the form of an unsolicited text or email to lure unsuspecting victims to provide valuable personal and financial information that can lead to identity theft.

Phishing is an email sent by fraudsters claiming to come from the IRS or another legitimate organization, including state tax organizations or a financial firm. The email lures the victims into the scam by enticing victims with a phony tax refund or frightening them with false legal/criminal charges for tax fraud.

Smishing is a text or smartphone SMS message that uses the same technique as phishing. Scammers often use alarming language like, “Your account has now been put on hold” or “Unusual Activity Report” with a bogus “Solutions” link to restore the recipient’s account. Unexpected tax refunds are another potential target for scam artists.

How to Avoid Getting Hooked by Scammers

The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail and will never initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text, or social media regarding a bill or tax refund. Never click on any unsolicited communication claiming to be the IRS as it may surreptitiously load malware.

Individuals should never respond to tax-related phishing or smishing by clicking on the URL link. Instead, the scams should be reported by sending the email or a copy of the text/SMS as an attachment to phishing@irs.gov. The report should include the caller ID (email or phone number), date, time and time zone, and the number that received the message.

Taxpayers can also report scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration or the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page at IRS.gov provides complete details. The Federal Communications Commission’s Smartphone Security Checker is a useful tool against mobile security threats. 

Verify the Identity of the Sender

The IRS also warns taxpayers to be wary of messages that appear to be from friends or family but that are possibly stolen or compromised email or text accounts from someone they know. Individuals should verify the identity of the sender by using another communication method, for instance, calling a number they independently know to be accurate, not the number provided in the email or text.

Stop Fraud and Scams

As part of the Dirty Dozen awareness effort, the IRS encourages people to report individuals who promote improper and abusive tax schemes as well as tax return preparers who deliberately prepare improper returns. To report an abusive tax scheme or a tax return preparer, people should mail or fax a completed Form 14242, Report Suspected Abusive Tax Promotions or Preparers, and any supporting material to the IRS Lead Development Center in the Office of Promoter Investigations. Alternatively, taxpayers and tax practitioners may send the information to the IRS Whistleblower Office for possible monetary reward.

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