The IRS began processing 2020 federal tax returns on Friday, February 12, 2021, and with the COVID-19 pandemic persisting it is no surprise that more tax returns are expected to be filed electronically in 2021 than ever before. While a jump in the number of tax returns filed electronically isn’t a bad thing, there is a problem that should have consumers on the lookout. Just as scammers and hackers have taken advantage of the increased number of individuals working from home or looking for quicker access to their stimulus money over the last several months, they are poised to take advantage of tax filers.
The tactics used are generally the same with just a few tax-time twists. Threat actors have set up phony tax preparer websites and are sending out phishing emails to lure people in. They are also reaching out using text messages or by phoning individuals directly. Some of these bad guys are even impersonating IRS staff in order to gain sensitive information about their victims. Consumers should be suspicious of anyone who contacts them directly offering to prepare their tax return. Also, a promise of an unusually high refund using little known tax laws or methods or a mention of somehow tying a refund in with stimulus money should immediately raise doubt.
So how can you be safe and savvy this tax year? Below are a few tips to help avoid becoming a victim of an online tax filing scam.
- Be sure the device you use to submit your information is up to date in terms of the operating system and all software, with special attention to having an updated antivirus software installed
- Do not input your information while connected to a public WiFi network unless you are using a virtual private network (VPN)
- Perform your own independent check of any company or individual before sharing your information with them
- Be cautious when dealing with claims of free tax filing services
- Use a well-known and reputable tax filing service
- Lean toward services that offer additional security features such as complex password requirements and multifactor authentication
- Make sure the website you choose uses a secure encryption method by looking for a lock icon and https (not http) at the beginning of the web address
- If the service you choose is one that will save your information to pull it over from year to year, make sure they are using secure storage methods
The last note of importance is to remember that impersonating the IRS is a crime and any instances should be reported through the “Help” section of IRS website. Now stop procrastinating and get out there and get those taxes done safely and securely.