If You Get This Message From the IRS, Do Not Open It
Doing this could put your private information at risk.
From financial forms filling your mailbox to emails from providers like Turbo Tax urging you to file already, you've likely already been inundated with messages this tax season. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) started allowing returns to be filed weeks earlier than normal this year on Jan. 24 in an attempt to help taxpayers battle what is expected to be an especially frustrating tax season. But while you should pay attention to all the tax-related mail in your inbox, not every message from the IRS is what it seems. The agency just posted a new alert for taxpayers, warning them about specific scams attempting to target taxpayers through fake IRS communication. Read on to find out what message you should be keeping an eye out for this year.
If you get a COVID-related text from the IRS, don't open it.
In a Feb. 3 alert to taxpayers, the IRS warned that text message scams involving the agency have gotten more popular recently. "Last year, there was an uptick in text messages that impersonated the IRS. These scams are sent to taxpayers' smartphones and have referenced COVID-19 and/or 'stimulus payments,'" the agency explained.
According to the IRS, these messages will often contain fraudulent links or attachments that appear to take recipients to IRS-based websites or online tools. But these sites are not associated with the agency and will likely work to obtain private information from unsuspecting individuals.
"The IRS reminds everyone NOT to click links or open attachments in unsolicited, suspicious or unexpected text messages—whether from the IRS, state tax agencies or others in the tax community," the agency advised in its warning. If you've received any unsolicited correspondence from the IRS that you believe might be fake, the agency is asking that you report it.
The IRS says it will not communicate with taxpayers in certain ways.
The IRS operates and corresponds with taxpayers in specific ways to try to avoid scams like this. According to the agency, it "does not use text messages to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involve bills or refunds." The only exception for texts from the IRS involve its IRS Secure Access, which is a two-factor authentication process.
Taxpayers will also not be contacted by the IRS through email, phone call, or social media in order to request personal or financial information. If you are contacted by the agency through any of these means, it will be for a specific reason. "There are special circumstances when the IRS will call or come to a home or business. These visits include times when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment," the agency said.
You could become a victim of identity theft if you fall for these scams.
Victims of IRS scams are often at high risk of tax-related identity theft. According to the agency, this occurs when someone uses your stolen social security number to file a tax return for a fraudulent refund in your name. "Taxpayers may be unaware of this activity until they e-file a tax return and discover that a return has already been filed using their SSN. Or, the IRS may send them a letter saying it has identified a suspicious return using their SSN," the IRS explained.
If you know or suspect you have become a victim of tax-related identify theft, you should respond immediately to any IRS notice by calling the phone number provided, and complete IRS Form 14039. "Victims of tax-related identity theft should continue to pay their taxes and file their tax return, even if they must do so by paper," the IRS added.
The IRS says scams are more likely to occur right now.
The tax season, which falls from Jan. 24 to April 18 for most taxpayers this year, is the ideal time for con artists to make their move. "With filing season underway, this is a prime period for identity thieves to hit people with realistic-looking emails and texts about their tax returns and refunds," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. "Watching out for these common scams can keep people from becoming victims of identity theft and protect their sensitive personal information that can be used to file tax returns and steal refunds."
The agency is asking taxpayers to watch out for potential unemployment scams in particular this year. "States have experienced a surge in fraudulent unemployment claims filed by organized crime rings using stolen identities. Criminals are using these stolen identities to fraudulently collect benefits," the IRS explained.