Category

ID theft & scams

Category

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Chuck Rettig has a message to taxpayers about personal data security.

Rettig reminds taxpayers that while the IRS is working hard to get ready for tax season, “You know who else is working hard? Identity thieves.” He adds,

Let’s not make it easy for them.

Rettig offered a few tips to help taxpayers protect their personal and financial data. Those tips were echoed on the IRS website where, among other things, taxpayers are advised to protect personal data. You should not routinely carry your Social Security card, and you should take steps to make sure your tax records are secure.

“Treat your personal information like you do your cash,” the IRS advises. “Don’t leave it lying around.”

You’ll find more tips here to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud. For more from the IRS, see Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers (PDF).

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning taxpayers about a Social Security number (SSN) scam currently making the rounds. As part of the scam, thieves may call—often as a “robocall”—and try to get you to call back by claiming that your SSN is at risk.

The scheme is similar to one that the IRS previously deemed “the SSN hustle.” As part of the con, scammers may try to convince you to confirm personal information, like Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, by claiming that your Social Security number may be deactivated or deleted. The threats may also suggest that you are in danger of losing your Social Security number because you owe taxes. 

Don’t fall for the tricks. Social Security numbers don’t have an expiration date, and you don’t have to reactivate or confirm them for them to be valid. And even if you owe taxes, your Social Security number is not affected. Do not call the number or engage with the scammer—even if you think you can get the better of them. Just hang up.

The IRS is also warning taxpayers to not give out sensitive information over the phone unless you’re positive it’s a legitimate call. The IRS will never:

  • Request personal information, PIN codes or passwords.
  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone. Nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without allowing you to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

And yes, the IRS is using third-party private collection agencies (PCAs) to help collect tax debts. However, those agencies are still supposed to follow the rules. That means that the PCAs, like the IRS, should not make threats or ask to be paid by prepaid debit cards, iTunes gift cards or wire transfer. They should, instead, advise about appeal options and your right to obtain assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

If you think you’re being targeted, don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s what to do instead:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, just hang up.
  • If you receive a robocall or telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call back.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to get more information.
  • You can also report the information to the Office of the Inspector General at 1.800.269.0271 or online.

Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. And when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity-theft-related tax fraud, click here.

Genetic testing kits are all the rage these days—and recent tax news may make it even more affordable. Taxpayers may now get a tax break for some testing, piquing interest for some taxpayers. Unfortunately, the increased popularity also makes genetic testing kits ripe for scammers. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Inspector General recently issued an alert about a fraud scheme involving genetic testing. The scheme, which tends to target seniors, offers Medicare beneficiaries “free” screenings or cheek swabs for genetic testing in return for Medicare information. Those who agree to the testing or verify Medicare information may be given a cheek swab, an in-person screening or receive a testing kit in the mail, even if it is not ordered by a physician or considered medically necessary. 

As part of the scam, even though the testing isn’t ordered by a physician or considered medically necessary, Medicare is billed for the test. If Medicare denies the claim, the testing or ordering company still wants to get paid. As a result, the Medicare beneficiary—that might be you—could be on the hook for the entire cost of the test. In some cases, that could be thousands of dollars.

(You can read more about the scheme here.)

The best way to protect yourself? Your doctor—not a company or a salesperson—should order genetic testing. A good rule of thumb? If anyone other than your physician’s office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it.

If the term “medically necessary” sounds familiar, it’s similar to the standard that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses for medical expenses deductions and inclusion under a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). For federal income tax purposes, medical expenses that qualify as deductible include as a treatment for a diagnosed disease or condition and must be specifically ordered by your doctor (in other words, prescribed). Medical expenses include visits for routine medical, dental and vision care, as well as specialist care, and also include treatments, including medications and follow-up visits. Medical expenses may also include associated out-of-pocket costs, like mileage (for mileage costs in 2019, click here). Medical expenses that would qualify for the medical and dental expenses deduction are typically the same as those which qualify for FSA and HSA purposes.

(You can read more about medical expenses here. For more on HSAs and preventative care, click here.)

That standard means that genetic and ancestry tests to find out if you’re related to the Queen—or if you actually come from Italy—are not tax-deductible. However, a recent Private Letter Ruling (PLR) issued by the IRS suggests that you may deduct the cost of genetic testing that relates directly to health services like diagnostics and genetic markers for cancer. 

(You can read the PLR, which downloads as a PDF, here. A quick reminder: PLRs are issued to an individual taxpayer in response to a particular set of facts. You can’t rely on a PLR as precedent, but it does give you a good sense of the IRS’ position on a particular matter.)

This year, the company, 23andMe, which is regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), got approval to offer risk analysis for nearly a dozen genetically linked diseases. One of their testing plans, the Health + Ancestry plan, now includes testing for genetic health risks and carrier status. If you opt for a combined plan like that one—with medical and non-medical markers—only the cost of genetic testing may be considered a qualified medical expense. You’ll have to allocate the price of the medical care portion as a portion fo the total paid for the kit. 23andMe has embraced the latest PLR, and has even posted a calculator on its website to help taxpayers determine the portion that might be appropriate for FSA and HSA coverage.

A quick word of caution: Not all companies are created equal. While some companies may offer genetic testing kits for legitimate purposes, it’s clear from the DHHS alert that scammers are trying to take advantage. Do your homework and use caution before providing your information. If you have questions about whether a specific test might qualify for HSA, FSA, federal income tax or Medicare purposes, check with your tax or benefits professional.

Tax season may be at an end for most taxpayers, but scammers aren’t letting up. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently warned taxpayers and tax professionals about a new IRS impersonation scam email. 

The email subject line may vary, but according to the IRS, recent examples use phrases like “Automatic Income Tax Reminder” or “Electronic Tax Return Reminder.” The emails include links that are meant to look like the IRS website with details about the taxpayer’s refund, electronic return or tax account. The emails contain a “temporary password” or “one-time password” that purports to grant access to the files. However, these are actually malicious files. Once the malware files are installed on your computer, scammers may be able to secretly download software that tracks every keystroke, giving the bad guys access to information like passwords to your financial accounts.

Don’t be fooled: the IRS does not send unsolicited emails and never emails taxpayers about the status of refunds.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig confirmed, “The IRS does not send emails about your tax refund or sensitive financial information. This latest scheme is yet another reminder that tax scams are a year-round business for thieves. We urge you to be on-guard at all times.”

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers or passwords used to access your credit cards, banks, or other financial accounts. The IRS also doesn’t call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer (more on those scams here). The IRS will typically send a bill to a taxpayer who owes taxes. 

(You can find out more about real tax notices here. You can find out how to respond to your tax notices here.)

Phishing and phone scams topped the 2019 “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. The common thread, according to the IRS: Scams put taxpayers at risk. Don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s what to do instead:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, just hang up.
  • If you receive a robocall or telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
  • Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email, don’t click on hyperlinks. A better bet is to go directly to the source’s main web page.
  • Use strong passwords to protect online accounts and use a unique password for each account. Longer is better, and don’t hesitate to lie about important details on websites since crooks may know some of your personal details.
  • Use two- or multi-factor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering your username and password, you typically enter a security code sent to your mobile phone or another device.

If you believe you are a victim of an IRS impersonation scam, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration via the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting site and to IRS (email phishing@irs.gov) with the subject line “IRS Impersonation Scam.” That’s how the IRS was alerted about the most recent scam: According to the IRS, taxpayers began notifying phishing@irs.gov about these unsolicited emails from IRS imposters.

The IRS and its Security Summit partners, consisting of state revenue departments and tax community partners, continue to be concerned about these scams.

Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert – and when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here.

Correspondence season is in full swing. That means that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is sending out bills and notices to taxpayers, including letters focused on cryptocurrency reporting. It may be hard for taxpayers to tell the real thing from the fakes – and scammers are taking advantage of the confusion. Here’s what you need to know.

Many taxpayers are aware that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. To try and trick taxpayers, some scammers are sending letters, hoping that folks will take the bait.

In one version, the letter threatens an IRS lien or levy based on bogus delinquent taxes owed to a nonexistent agency called the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement.” There is no such agency. The lien notification may also reference the IRS to make you think that the letter is legitimate. The IRS warned taxpayers about this trick – and others – earlier this summer. You can read about those recent IRS scam warnings here.

Since then, taxpayers have continued to report receipt of fake IRS letters. Some variations of fake IRS letters claim that a warrant has been issued to a taxpayer because of unpaid tax obligations. As with previous scam efforts, the letter goes on to warn that the warrant could result in arrests or other criminal action if the taxpayer doesn’t pay immediately. 

In some cases, the fake IRS letters have included facts about real tax debts. That’s scary for taxpayers because it feels legitimate, but keep in mind that some tax-related information, like liens that have been filed against taxpayers, may be available to the public. Don’t be frightened into giving up cash or personal information just because a scammer knows one or two facts about you.

Instead, use caution when replying to correspondence. The IRS does send letters to taxpayers. But there are some ways to spot a legit IRS letter from a fake one. Here are a few tips:

  • A proper IRS letter will usually arrive in a government envelope and will include the IRS seal on the notice or letter.
  • A legitimate letter will include a notice or letter number, most commonly found at the top right-hand corner. If there’s no notice or letter number, it’s likely a fake.
  • A real IRS letter will typically include your truncated tax ID number and will note the tax year or years in question at the top right-hand corner of the letter.
  • A bona fide letter will include IRS contact information – usually a 1.800 number found at the top of the letter near your identifying information. If there’s no contact information or if it appears to be a personal or cell number, the letter is likely a fake. If there is contact information but you’re not sure that it’s legitimate, you can always call the IRS directly at 1.800.829.1040.
  • A letter from the real IRS will also include additional information about your rights as a taxpayer (thanks, Nina Olson) such as Publication 1 (downloads as a PDF) or an explanation of your appeal rights and other options. The real IRS will not threaten to arrest or deport you.
  • Finally, a legitimate collection letter will note your payment options, including how to pay any balance due. If the letter asks you to write a check to any party other than the U.S. Treasury, furnish credit or debit card information over the phone, or to pay using iTunes or other gift cards (more on that here), it’s a fake.

(You can find out more about real tax notices here. You can find out how to respond to your tax notices here.)

And with tax scams coming from all directions this season, don’t forget about the phones: the IRS says that phone scams are still “a major threat to taxpayers.” That’s why phishing and phone scams topped the 2019 “Dirty Dozen” list. Don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s what to do instead:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, just hang up.
  • If you receive a robocall or telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
  • Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email, don’t click on hyperlinks. A better bet is to go directly to the source’s main web page.
  • Use strong passwords to protect online accounts and use a unique password for each account. Longer is better, and don’t hesitate to lie about important details on websites since crooks may know some of your personal details.
  • Use two- or multi-factor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering your username and password, you typically enter a security code sent to your mobile phone or another device.

If you believe you are a victim of an IRS impersonation scam, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at its IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting site and to the IRS by emailing phishing@irs.gov with the subject line “IRS Impersonation Scam.”

Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert – and when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here.

If you’re looking to create or access your online payment plans with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you should be aware of some key changes. The IRS recently updated its identity verification process to protect tax information better. 

An installment agreement is an option for taxpayers who can’t pay a tax bill in full. Typically, you would seek out an installment agreement when it would take you more than 120 days (about four months) to pay your balance due. 

If you owe $50,000 or less in combined individual income tax, penalties, and interest, you can apply for an installment agreement online

To apply online, traditionally you needed:

  • Name and address as they appear on your most recently filed tax return
  • E-mail address
  • Date of birth
  • Filing status (single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or qualifying widower)
  • Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)

(For more on installment agreements, click here.)

You still need that information, but now you’ll need to do a bit more. Specifically, you will need to verify either a financial account linked to your name or a mobile phone number registered in your name.

  • To verify a financial account, you will need a credit card (no American Express, debit or corporate cards), student loan, home mortgage, home equity loan or line of credit or auto loan in your name. The IRS will only use this information to verify your identity. Your card won’t be charged, and the IRS will not access your financial information. 
  • To verify using a mobile phone number, the phone must in your name, capable of receiving text messages, and based in the U.S. 

If you don’t have either of these items, you can request that the IRS mail a verification code to you. The IRS says that you should expect to wait five to ten business days for the code to arrive. 

If you already have an account for an online installment agreement or one of the other IRS tools like “Get Transcript” you can log in with the same user ID and password. You’ll still need to verify your account using the additional information.

(To find out more about “Get Transcript,” click here.)

These security measures are intended to help keep your personal and tax information safe. Remember that the IRS will not send your transcript or installment agreement information via e-mail or direct you to a website that is not the official IRS website (www.irs.gov).

It may be summertime, but that doesn’t mean that scammers are on vacation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is encouraging taxpayers to be on the lookout for a “surge of evolving phishing emails and telephone scams.”

The IRS is specifically warning about two new variations on existing, long-running tax-related scams. One of the scams tries to gather personally-identifiable information related to Social Security numbers (SSN), while another threatens people with a fake tax bill.

The SSN hustle. In what the IRS has termed “the SSN hustle,” scammers call and claim that they can suspend or cancel your Social Security number. As part of the con, scammers may try to convince you to give personal information, like Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, over the phone by claiming that your Social Security number is at risk of being deactivated or deleted; the threats may also suggest that you are in danger of losing your Social Security number because of overdue taxes. 

Many of these calls are “robocalls” or automated calls. In one version of the scam, an automated recording declares that your Social Security number (SSN) “has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity” and advises you to contact a specific phone number immediately. The robocall or caller may also warn that if you don’t call back, your assets or benefits will be frozen until your alleged issue is resolved. 

Don’t fall for the scam. Social Security numbers don’t have an expiration date, and you don’t have to reactivate or confirm them for them to be valid. And even if you owe taxes, your Social Security number is not affected. Do not call the number or engage with the scammer (even if you think you can get the better of them). Just hang up. You can also report the information to the Office of the Inspector General at 1.800.269.0271 or online.

(You can read more about the scam as reported last year here.)

The IRS says that phone scams are still “a major threat to taxpayers.” That’s why phishing and phone scams topped the 2019 “Dirty Dozen” list. The common thread in the list, according to the IRS: Scams put taxpayers at risk. As a reminder, the IRS will never threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying or demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

Fake tax agency. As taxpayers become more aware of scams, the bad guys are switching gears, too. Many taxpayers are aware that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the IRS call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. Now, scammers are trying to trick taxpayers by sending a letter first. The letter threatens an IRS lien or levy based on bogus delinquent taxes owed to a nonexistent agency called the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement.” There is no such agency. The lien notification may also reference the IRS to make you think that the letter is legitimate.

(You can find out more about real tax notices here.)

Don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s what to do instead: 

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, just hang up.
  • If you receive a robocall or telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
  • Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email, don’t click on hyperlinks. A better bet is to go directly to the source’s main Web page.
  • Use strong passwords to protect online accounts and use a unique password for each account. Longer is better, and don’t hesitate to lie about important details on websites since crooks may know some of your personal details.
  • Use two- or multi-factor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering your username and password, you typically enter a security code sent to your mobile phone or another device.

Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. And when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here.

Last year, callers reported more negative robocalls on Tax Day than any other day. A whopping 143 million negative robocalls were placed on Tax Day in 2018, according to a comprehensive robocall data analysis by Transaction Network Services, Inc. (TNS). 

Negative robocalls are those which are scams, fraudulent or nuisance calls. The top technique for robocallers? Call spoofing. According to TNS, one in every 4,000 mobile device numbers was hijacked by a spoofer, and one in five people disconnected their phone after their number was hijacked. 

With Tax Day pulling in so many negative calls, it’s not a surprise to find that April was the highest volume month of the year with 10% of the negative calls occurring during this month. At the other end of the spectrum, December was the lowest volume month of the year.

When it comes to days of the week, most negative robocalls happen on Tuesday (15%). Your best chance of avoiding a negative robocall happens on Sunday (5%).

Where you live makes a difference, too. Callers in the Palmetto State are targeted the most: South Carolina received more negative robocalls than any other state. North Carolina and Georgia are next in line, while a Georgia area code (706) was the most heavily targeted area code in the country.

Where are the calls coming from? More negative robocalls originated in Kansas City, Kansas than any other city. Next on the list are Richmond Hill, Georgia and San Francisco, California.

And don’t expect the risk of receiving a scam call to decrease in 2019. TNS reports that “[t]he risk of falling victim to tax filing and IRS related scams – always high – is even greater in 2019.” Scammers are capitalizing on taxpayer confusion left-over from the government shutdown. TNS has already tracked multiple tax filing and IRS-related robocall scams in the first quarter of 2019.

Don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t engage with the scammer and do not give out any information. Just hang up.
  • If you receive a telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
  • Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source.
  • If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email, don’t click on hyperlinks. A better bet is to go directly to the source’s main Web page.
  • Use security software to protect against malware and viruses found in phishing emails.
  • Use strong passwords to protect online accounts and use a unique password for each account. Longer is better, and don’t hesitate to lie about important details on websites since crooks may know some of your personal information.
  • Use two or multi-factor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering your username and password, you typically enter a security code sent to your mobile phone or another device.

Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. And, when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here

For a look at other kinds of scams targeting taxpayers, click here.

“Consumers should be especially vigilant as we approach tax season, but given the fact that nuisance robocall volume increased 13% in 2018 it is important to never let your guard down when callers are asking for personal information,” said Bill Versen, Chief Product Officer at Transaction Network Services. According to Versen, there is relief on the horizon as government and industry work to provide “better protection for consumers and businesses negatively impacted by robocalls.” 

To obtain the data, TNS analyzed robocalls from more than one billion daily call events across hundreds of carriers. TNS provides a full range of services from dedicated connections to managed IP network solutions, providing local support and global reach to medium and large enterprises and service providers.

It’s not just the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issuing warnings about phone impersonation and related scams: the U.S. Tax Court has also issued a warning on its website in an effort to educate taxpayers so that they don’t become victims (downloads as a PDF). 

Like the IRS, the Tax Court will not:

  • Call or email to demand payment of Court fees or taxes;
  • Call or email to threaten an arrest; or
  • Call or email to insist that a specific payment method be used to pay a tax debt or request credit or debit card numbers over the phone. 

If you have received a phone call, email, or other communication that refers to the Tax Court and which you suspect is a scam and would like to discuss it with a member of the Court’s staff, you can call the Court at (202) 521-3390.

(For more on the Tax Court, click here.)

Despite increased publicity about these kinds of scams, reports of phone scams increased in 2018, with the IRS reporting receipt of thousands of such complaints each week. These phone scams are “a major threat to taxpayers” and as such, continued to hold down a top spot on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams.

(You can read the most recent Dirty Dozen list here.)

As a reminder, don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t engage with the scammer and do not give out any information. Just hang up.
  • If you receive a telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
  • Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source.
  • If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email, don’t click on hyperlinks. A better bet is to go directly to the source’s main Web page. You can find the IRS website here and the U.S. Tax Court website here.
  • Use security software to protect against malware and viruses found in phishing emails.

Thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams. Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, or email to set up individuals, businesses, payroll and tax professionals. The IRS maintains a list of current warnings and alerts on the Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts page on its website.

Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. And, when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here

With just a few weeks until Tax Day, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is reminding taxpayers to be on the lookout for tax scams. The IRS has issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, highlighting a variety of schemes. The common thread, according to the IRS: Scams put taxpayers at risk.

Taxpayers can fall victim to these scams at any time, but scams tend to peak during tax filing season. Knowing about them can help you take steps to protect your personal and financial information. Here’s the list of the IRS “Dirty Dozen” scams for 2019:

1. Phishing. Phishing is a scam where criminals attempt to steal your financial information through the use of email or a fake website. In many cases, bogus emails ask for specific personal information or try to get you to click on a link to install spyware or other malware on your computer. Variations on these schemes are popping up all of the time, with the IRS warning just a few months ago of “a surge of new, sophisticated email phishing scams.” Remember that the IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email. If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS, you can report it by forwarding it to phishing@irs.gov. Also, be wary of emails purporting to be from individuals or companies asking for personal or payroll information. When in doubt, assume it’s a scam.

For more information, check out IR-2019-26.

2. Phone Scams. Callers posing as agents from the IRS attempting to collect bogus tax debts remain a serious threat to taxpayers. The IRS says that it has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as con artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation, and license revocation. Typically, in the scheme, callers posing as IRS representatives say the victims owe money and then threaten arrest if the amount is not paid immediately. Scammers will use fake names and IRS badge numbers and “spoof” or imitate the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling. The best tack? If you’re not expecting a call from the IRS, don’t pick up.

For more information, check out IR-2019-28.

3. Identity Theft. Identity theft, when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, is often used by scammers to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. The IRS, working in the Security Summit partnership, has made major improvements in detecting tax-return-related identity theft during the past few years. Taxpayers can still take steps to protect themselves, including using strong passwords and being careful about who has access to your personal and financial information.

For more information, check out IR-2019-30.

4. Return Preparer Fraud. According to the IRS, nearly 6 in 10 taxpayers rely on professional tax preparers to assist them with their returns. Most tax preparers are good people, but some unscrupulous preparers may try to encourage taxpayers to claim improper credits, deductions or exemptions in hopes of boosting refunds. Use care when choosing a preparer and remember that taxpayers should use only preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs). For hints on finding a tax preparer, click here.

For more information, check out IR-2019-32.

5. Inflated Refund Claims. Scam artists may promise free money tied to inflated refunds. Many focus on refundable tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) to get a larger refund—that’s why Congress delayed issuing tax refunds tied to those credits. If you make a false claim or receive a fraudulent refund, you can be subject to a penalty and potential jail time. Tax preparers who promise a big refund before looking at taxpayer records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund may be making promises that are too good to be true (see again #4).

For more information, check out IR-2019-33.

6. Falsifying Income to Claim Credits. It’s usual to think of taxpayers hiding income to avoid tax, but inflating income? Refundable tax credits typically require earned income to qualify, which may provide an incentive to lie about income. Taxpayers who engage in this behavior not only have to pay back the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties but may face criminal prosecution. The bottom line? Don’t invent or inflate your income, and file the most accurate tax return possible.

For more information, check out IR-2019-35

7. Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns. Taxpayers are entitled to claim legitimate deductions on their tax returns. However, taxpayers may be asked to claim “just a little bit more” to get a bigger refund. Overstating deductions—even just a little —is improper and can lead to significant civil penalties and criminal prosecution. The IRS warns that you should think twice before overstating deductions, such as charitable contributions and business expenses.

For more information, check out IR-2019-36.

8. Fake Charities. Fake charities take advantage of your good nature to steal your money and, potentially, your identity. To avoid being taken advantage of, donate to recognized charities and be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Remember that you don’t need to give out personal information, like your Social Security number or passwords, to get a receipt for your donation. For tips on making your charitable donation count, click here.

For more information, check out IR-2019-39.

9. Excessive Claims for Business Credits. Claiming excessive or bogus business credits to reduce your taxes is improper. Two schemes, in particular, involving the fuel tax credit (usually limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming) and the research credit, have attracted the attention of the IRS. Unsupported claims for tax credits may subject taxpayers to penalties and interest.

For more information, check out IR-2019-42.

10. Offshore Tax Avoidance. It is not illegal to have cash, brokerage accounts or other investments in foreign countries. It is, however, illegal to use foreign accounts to evade U.S. taxes. There are significant reporting requirements for offshore assets, including FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) filings and other forms relating to gifts, trusts, and foreign inheritances. Taxpayers who do not properly report and disclose those accounts are breaking the law and could face civil and criminal penalties and fines. If you need to make a disclosure because you failed to report in the past, the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) has ended, but there are still procedures that allow you to come clean (ask your tax pro for details).

For more information, check out IR-2019-43.

11. Frivolous Tax Arguments. Frivolous tax arguments may be used to avoid paying taxes. Examples of frivolous tax arguments include refusal to pay taxes on religious or moral grounds by invoking the First Amendment, claiming that only federal employees are subject to federal income tax, or declaring that only foreign-source income is taxable. Those are all bogus. The penalty for taking one of these positions on a tax return is $5,000; additional penalties may also apply, including criminal prosecution.

For more information, check out IR-2019-45.

12. Abusive Tax Shelters. Abusive tax shelters don’t have to be multimillion-dollar tax schemes. Sometimes, they can involve trust arrangements or the use of multiple pass-through companies like Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) to hide ownership of assets. You can’t legally avoid taxation by creating multiple layers of companies or trusts or by manipulating the ownership of assets. Legitimate tax planning is not the same as tax evasion. Don’t get sucked into schemes promoted by advisors who promise you that you can permanently avoid taxation by buying their shelters and products. If it sounds too good to be true, be wary.

For more information, check out IR-2019-47.