In the final weeks of the tax filing season, the IRS is warning people to be extra wary of scams and attempts to steal your personal information.
One of the most common way taxpayers get duped is over the phone. Kimberley Washington is a CPA and former IRS agent and says there is at least one surefire way to know when you’re being scammed.
“You don’t have to worry about the IRS calling today and saying, ‘Hey you owe this money right now, we’re gonna come arrest you,’” Washington said. “That’s not what the IRS will do.”
Washington said if you do get one of those calls, hang up immediately and report it to the IRS. She warns the IRS will never demand immediate payment or threaten arrest and will always give taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal.
And while scammers can sometimes sound convincing, Kimberley stressed anytime someone requests your personal information, you should always ask yourself whether it’s necessary.
“They’re trying to get information from you such as your credit card number or your social security number,” Washington said.
Thieves often use that type of information to file bogus tax returns, and ultimately can get your refund — which is why the IRS urges taxpayers to treat their personal information in the same they would treat cash — don’t leave it lying around.
Additionally, the IRS recommends keeping a secure computer, using security software that updates automatically, but never download one from a popup ad.
“Even when you use a third party website in order to do your taxes, make sure that it’s a secure website and that you’re using very strong passwords,” Washington said.
One way to tell if a website is secure — look for the “s” at the end of “https,” which appears at the beginning of a web address. The letter stands for “secure,” meaning all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
Also, Washington recommends to watch for unsolicited emails.
“I have seen emails where people say, ‘Hey look at this attachment,’ [and] it’s a tax attachment, and it was a phishing email,” Washington said. “It will be from a third party. From a name I’ve never seen before.”
In some cases, those emails may appear to be from someone you know, especially if their email has been compromised. If you aren’t sure, Washington recommends picking up the phone to call that person and ask directly if they sent you an email with that attachment.
Additionally, never carry your social security card around with you, keep your important tax documents under lock and key and invest in a shredder to properly dispose of personal information.