7 Common Tax Return Scams

Posted on February 28, 2024

IMAGE: Man working with calculator and computer and piggy bank in foregroundTax season is here, which means a rise in criminals using the stress of paying taxes to their advantage. Most of these scams involve impersonating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media to request information. When you file your taxes this year, be aware of these common tax return scams.

1. Phishing

Used to steal personal information, phishing emails are a common scam where the sender pretends to be an IRS agent. It may contain threats or demands for urgent payment, but the email will contain a link leading to a website impersonating the official IRS website at IRS.gov. The fake site could contain a form to collect your information, or it could download malware to your device that is also used to steal information. Don’t respond or click anything in the email—delete it or mark it as “junk” email. Read more about phishing at IRS.gov/privacy-disclosure/report-phishing.

2. Threats

No one wants to be in trouble with the IRS, and scammers use this fear to threaten lawsuits or even imprisonment. If you receive a message demanding payment using unconventional methods, like wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards, do not respond. If the person or caller says you cannot make the payment through IRS.gov, this is another warning sign. You can create an online account at IRS.gov to make payments, set up payment plans, view your balance and records, and more.

3. Tax Identity Theft

If someone files taxes using your name and personal information without your knowledge, you are a victim of tax identity theft. The criminal doesn't need your tax documents; they only need your name, social security number (SSN), and date of birth. The scam usually involves a large refund that the scammer will deposit into their account, and you won't be aware of the scam until you see an alert that your taxes have already been filed when submitting your taxes. To protect your identity, the IRS offers Identity Protection PINs. These six-digit passcodes are used to verify your identity and prevent theft.

4. "Ghost" Tax Preparers

Many people need help filing taxes. Knowing that the correct forms are filled out and any itemized deductions are included gives many people peace of mind. However, a scammer may pose as a legitimate tax preparer to make mistakes on the return, use exceptions that don't apply, or even file a fraudulent return in your name. You are held responsible if the person files a fraudulent return since you approved and signed the forms. Also, pay close attention to who is helping your loved ones, especially older adults with declining health, since they are more vulnerable to fraud. Before choosing a tax preparer, ask for their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) or search the IRS directory.

5. Additional Refund

It would be great to receive a bigger refund than what you calculated, but the IRS isn't known for handing out more money than what is owed. If the IRS thinks there's an error in your refund, you could expect an audit and not an additional refund. In this scam, you may receive a phishing email claiming the IRS recalculated your return and that they owe you an additional refund. The email contains a link to confirm personal or financial information to receive the funds. Instead, the scammer gets the funds and you’ve made yourself a target for identity theft. You can track your refund at Where's My Refund?

6. Overdue Payment

When you file your taxes, you have the option to receive your refund in the form of direct deposit. In this scam, you may receive a call or phone call claiming the incorrect amount was deposited in your account and that you must return the extra money. The criminal may request payment through a wire transfer or gift card, which is a clear indication it's a scam. If the IRS does see an error in your refund, they will mail a letter to let you know. The IRS also accepts multiple payment methods that are more conventional.

7. Additional Forms Requests

Phishing emails asking you to fill out additional tax forms are another scam attempting to steal your information. There are many forms that taxpayers need to send, but the IRS will often mail these to companies if they need W-4, W-9, or other tax forms.

Bottom Line: The IRS doesn't contact taxpayers by email, text, or social media to request personal or financial information. If the IRS needs to contact you, they will do so by mail.

If you've received a message from any of these channels, it's a scam. Do not click on any links or respond. The IRS also relies on victims to report scams or suspected fraud. The IRS has several tools to help taxpayers. You can call toll-free at 800-829-1040 or find a local Taxpayer Assistance Center to make an appointment. For more ways to protect your identity, read our articles on Fraud Prevention.


If you wish to comment on this article or have an idea for a topic we should cover, we want to hear from you! Email us at editor@texell.org.

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