As someone who works with other people’s sensitive financial information, I am keenly aware and super diligent about helping my clients make sure they avoid scams and identity theft. Although technology continues to advance to help keep our personal information safe and secure, it seems the scammers, thieves and all around bad guys also continue to up their game, finding new and creative ways to trick or hack their way into gaining sensitive personal information that can be used for malicious intent.
While it is important that we are always alert and vigilant about keeping our sensitive personal and business information safe and secure, it is of particular importance this time of year. The scammers seem particularly fond of posing as the IRS and attempting to lure victims with urgent messages about extremely important transactions that must be attended to. They have become very adept at creating emails that look official, whether from the IRS, your bank or Credit Card Company.
The best defense against these unscrupulous individuals is to DELETE any email that looks at all suspicious and that you are not expecting. If you do open the email – the next defense is DO NOT CLICK!. If it sounds like the email is from your bank or Credit Card Company and it asks you to click or provide personal information, give them a call. If you receive an email that looks like it is from the IRS or Arizona Department of Revenue, and you suspect it is a fake but are afraid to ignore it, please contact me. We can investigate on your behalf. Remember, the IRS and financial institutions NEVER request personal information via email.
Even if you may be alert and not likely to fall victim to these scams, it is also a good idea to make sure family members know how to protect their information as well. We are all aware scammers and hackers love to prey on the most vulnerable, and this often includes the elderly, immigrants and other disadvantaged groups.
There seem to be as many variations of scams as there are stars in the sky so we can’t cover them all here. A few of the more common ones to be on the lookout for are listed below.
- E-mails that appear to be from the IRS or Arizona Department of Revenue indicating you have a refund coming, but they need information to process the refund.
- E-mails from your bank showing they are holding a wire transfer, but they need your bank routing information and account number. If you aren’t expecting any wire transfer, DELETE the email. If there is any doubt, call your bank.
- E-mails indicating you have a foreign inheritance. You’ve probably seen these. Some person you’ve never heard of from a country you’ve never been to sends you an email indicating they need your bank information so they can wire the funds. Most of us laugh when we receive these, but they wouldn’t keep trying if they didn’t have some success.
For more on Tax-specific scams, the IRS recently published the 2014 “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams” which details the most current scams. The IRS also has a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft issues, considered as one of the most serious breaches of security. The section includes both tips on how to prevent identity theft as well as how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit in the unfortunate event that you have fallen, a victim.
Scams that made the Dirty Dozen list
- Telephone scams. There are many variations and some use aggressive scare tactics. Often the victim will receive a call indicating they owe taxes. The scammers go so far as to threaten arrest and then include a follow-up call from someone posing as a law enforcement officer. IRS.gov includes the phone numbers to report if you should receive one of these calls.
- Phishing. These scams are typically carried out with an unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site designed to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information.
- Free money. Scam artists pose as tax preparers and promise large refunds. They often prey on low-income, elderly, immigrants and other groups that typically do not have a filing requirement.
- Return preparer fraud. Scammers pose as tax preparers, often with the intent of identity theft. Be aware when hiring a tax preparer. All legitimate preparers sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs).
Don’t be a victim. Please report any suspicious emails or phone calls to the appropriate institution. If you believe your tax ID has been compromised or you have questions about IRS or Arizona Department of Revenue communications, please contact me.