It's tax scam season again

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Tax season is in full swing and criminals are going to great lengths to steal your identity and tax refund.

Scams include fake websites and tax forms that look like they belong to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in order to trick you into providing your personal information.

You should always take steps to minimize your risk of identity theft and other online-related crimes, but this is especially important during tax season.

The Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center offers the following warning signs to look for and basic precautions you can take to minimize risk and avoid becoming the next victim: 

Warning signs of an online tax scam

  • An email or link requesting personal and/or financial information, such as your name, Social Security number, bank or credit card account numbers, or any additional security-related information. 
  • Emails containing various forms of threats or consequences if no response is received, such as additional taxes or blocking access to your funds.
  • Emails from the IRS or federal agencies. The IRS will not contact you via email. 
  • Emails containing exciting offers or tax refunds. Be on the lookout for incorrect spelling, grammar, or odd phrasing throughout. 
  • Emails discussing "changes to tax laws." These email scams typically include a downloadable document (usually in PDF format) that purports to explain the new tax laws. However, these downloads almost always contain malware that will infect your computer.

How to avoid becoming a victim

  • Never send sensitive information in an email. It can be intercepted by criminals. Make sure to consistently check your financial account statements and your credit report for any signs of unauthorized activity. 
  • Make sure your computer has the latest security updates installed. Check that your anti-virus and anti-spyware software are running properly and receiving automatic updates from the vendor. If you haven't already done so, install and enable a firewall. 
  • Carefully select the sites you visit. Safely searching for tax forms, advice on deductibles, tax preparers, and other similar topics requires caution. Never visit a site by clicking on a link sent in an email, found on someone's blog, or in an advertisement. The websites you land on might look like legitimate sites but can also be very well-crafted fakes.
  • Be wise with Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi hotspots are intended to provide convenient access to the internet, however, this convenience can come at a cost. Public Wi-Fi is not secure and is susceptible to eavesdropping by hackers, therefore, never use public Wi-Fi to file your taxes. 
  • Always use strong passwords. Cybercriminals have developed programs that automate the ability to guess your passwords. To best protect yourself, make your passwords difficult to guess. Passwords should have a minimum of nine characters and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. 

If you receive a tax-related phishing or suspicious email at work, report it according to your organization’s information security team. If you receive a similar email on your personal account, the IRS encourages you to forward the original suspicious email (with headers or as an attachment) to its email account, or to call the IRS at 800-908-4490. More information about tax scams is available on the IRS website and in the IRS Dirty Dozen list of tax scams.

Additional resources:  

•    IRS | Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft  
•    IRS | Report Phishing
•    IRS Dirty Dozen