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10 IRS Scams You Need To Avoid This Tax Season

Scammers are out again this tax season. Learn how to spot the most common IRS scams this year and how to stay safe while filing your taxes.

Do You Know How To Identify a Tax Scam?

When an IRS agent called Wendy Weaver claiming that she was under criminal investigation, Wendy was rightfully suspicious. But after the agent supplied the Washington woman’s Social Security number (SSN), she started to panic. Over the next few hours, the “agent” instructed Wendy to purchase multiple gift cards and share the card numbers and PINs with him. It was only after sending more than $9,000 that Wendy realized she was talking to a fraudster [*]. 

IRS scams like this one are nothing new — but they’ve gotten worse in recent years because data breaches give criminals easy access to sensitive information like SSNs and bank account numbers. According to the latest data [*]:  

Last year, the IRS identified nearly 7.8 million reports of suspicious activity, resulting in over $5.7 billion in tax fraud. 

If you want to protect yourself this tax season (and throughout the year), you need to remain calm and vigilant when engaging with anyone claiming to be from the IRS. 

In this guide, we’ll explain how IRS scams work, the latest ways that fraudsters can target you during tax season, and what to do if you’ve fallen victim to a tax scam.

What are IRS Scams? How Do Fraudsters Target You During Tax Season?

IRS scams occur when scammers pose as agents from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and trick or pressure victims into giving up money or personal information. These scams can originate as phishing emails, fake text messages, phone calls, or even in-person visits from fake agents. 

Scammers know that most people aren’t tax professionals and may respond without thinking if told that they’re in trouble with the IRS. This is why many of these tax scams include threats of fines or even jail time. 

Even worse, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), scammers increasingly use stolen personal information — especially compromised SSNs — to make you believe they’re legitimate IRS agents [*]. 

Here’s what scammers can do if you fall for a tax scam:

  • Steal sensitive personal information and use it for identity theft. Scammers posing as IRS agents are out to steal sensitive information like your name, SSN, taxpayer identification number (TIN), or credit card number. Anything you give them can be used to steal your identity or empty your bank account.
  • Trick you into sending money, wire transfers,  gift cards, or cryptocurrencies. IRS imposters often try to scare victims into making fake tax bill payments via non-secure payment methods.
  • File taxes under your name and pocket your tax refund. Con artists collect information in order to file fraudulent tax returns and steal your tax refund.
  • Pose as a tax professional and offer to get you large rebates or tax returns. Fraudulent tax preparers use your personal information to file falsified tax returns in your name — and then pocket the return. 

The 10 Latest IRS Scams of 2024

Every year, the IRS releases its “Dirty Dozen” — highlighting the worst tax scams of the past year. However, this list focuses mostly on people avoiding tax payments or committing other forms of tax fraud. 

To help you stay safe, we’ve put together a list of the latest ways that scammers may target you with IRS scams during the 2024 tax season:

1. Phishing emails or texts claiming your tax refund has been “recalculated”

Scammers send fake text messages or phishing emails with eye-catching subject lines about tax refunds or recalculated rebates. Since the messages look like they’re from the IRS, recipients often take them seriously.

These messages almost always offer a larger tax refund payment than you were expecting. In order to claim it, you’re asked to click on a link and enter sensitive information — such as your driver’s license number, SSN, or even your bank account information

But the website is fake, and any information that you enter goes straight to the scammer.  During the 2023 tax season, Aura’s Smart Network detected a 2,700% increase in fake tax-related websites [*].

Warning signs:

  • Be suspicious of any unsolicited email or text claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS does not contact people directly about tax refunds — especially via email or text.
  • The email shows signs of a phishing scam — such as an email sent from an address that doesn’t end in “@irs.gov.”
  • The message prompts you to follow a link or download an attachment. These links can take you to fake websites or even infect your device with malware.

2. IRS impersonators asking for gift cards over the phone

In this version of an IRS phone scam, fraudsters posing as IRS agents reach out and threaten victims with massive fees or jail time if they don’t comply. For example, they may say that your name has been linked to fraud or criminal activity — and the only way to clear it is to purchase gift cards to repay alleged debts. 

Scammers can even use caller ID spoofing technology to make it look like they’re calling from the IRS. Your best bet is to always hang up and call the agency back using one of its official phone numbers.

Warning signs:

  • Anyone who requests gift cards for payment is a scammer. The IRS and other government agencies do not ask for payments via gift cards, prepaid debit cards, or wire transfers. 
  • Threats and harassment are also huge red flags. If you have concerns about your status or personal records, contact authorities through official channels instead of communicating with a potential scammer.

3. Calls claiming to be from the FDIC asking for your bank information

Scammers pose as agents from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to trick unsuspecting individuals into giving away financial information. Since the FDIC is a federal agency, these imposter scam calls sound legitimate.

They’ll tell you that you just need to “confirm” or “update” your financial information over the phone or via email. Other reports of these scams involve lies about unpaid debts and threats of lawsuits or jail time. 

Warning signs:

  • Any unsolicited request from the FDIC for personal information or payment information is a scam. 
  • If you get an imposter scam call from the FDIC, hang up immediately and report the incident to law enforcement.

4. Scammers threatening to “cancel” your Social Security number

Many scams start with a fraudster notifying you about a fake problem, and then offering to help you resolve it. Scams about Social Security numbers getting “canceled” or “suspended” skyrocketed a few years ago, and have been trending ever since [*].

Social Security scams are popular during tax season because your Social Security number is closely tied to your ability to file state and federal taxes. Scammers will threaten your SSN in order to get you to click on malicious links, download infected attachments, or send them money. 

Warning signs:

  • Any mention of suspension or cancellation of your SSN is an immediate red flag. 
  • Don’t engage with any phone call, unsolicited email, or text message that’s supposed to be from the Social Security Administration. The SSA will contact you by sending mail to your residence.

Remember: In almost all cases, your Social Security number is yours for life. SSNs can’t be canceled, suspended, or revoked for any reason, and can only be changed in exceptional circumstances.

5. Letters or calls from the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement”

It’s easy to come up with a title that sounds like the official name of a government department. And that’s exactly how scammers get away with this particular tax scam. 

Many targets have received emails and phone calls from the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement,” which is a fake collection agency invented by scammers. They inform their victims of a supposed tax lien that can only be settled by making an immediate payment. 

Warning signs:

  • Contact and harassment from a collection agency is likely a scam, especially if the messages come with threats. If an agency requests immediate payment, it is almost certainly a scam.
  • Always triple-check the validity of any message that you receive. Research the agency online by searching “[Agency name] + legitimate/reviews/scam.” You can also contact the IRS directly to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate organization. 

6. Fraudulent tax transcript emails from “IRS online”

In this scam, fraudsters change their email sender name to “IRS online” and send emails using the subject line “tax transcript.” (A tax transcript is a document that provides a summary of your tax information, including tax returns.) 

These email scams are designed to convince the recipient to open the fake attached transcript document. In reality, it’s a dangerous file that infects the target’s device with invasive malware as soon as it’s opened. 

Warning signs:

  • Look out for baiting phrases like “tax transcript” in email subject lines. Never download an attachment from an unsolicited email. 
  • Remember that the IRS will never send unsolicited emails to taxpayers, and they definitely won’t send sensitive documents via email. 
  • If you receive a message like this, delete it or forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

7. Unexpected calls from the Taxpayer Advocate Service

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is a legitimate organization under the umbrella of the IRS. However, scammers use this title to carry out imposter scams against the public. 

In this variation of an IRS scam, the caller claims you owe tax debts that you must pay immediately. Callers might even say that you’re eligible for a special tax credit, but they need your personal information to help you file for it. 

Warning signs:

  • The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an organization that you can contact for assistance. They will not contact you unless you contact them first. 
  • If you owe federal or state tax, you’ll receive a tax bill in the mail from the IRS. 

8. “Ghost” tax preparers who won’t sign your tax return 

Scammers disguised as tax professionals commit fraud using another person’s tax information. Their goal is to misreport your income and pocket the resulting tax refund. 

Dishonest tax preparers will refuse to sign your tax return with their Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which means that they won’t be held liable for fraud — you will. 

“Ghost” preparers are also known for putting down their own bank account information on your tax returns so that they’ll get your refund.

Warning signs:

  • Avoid tax promoters who promise amazing tax refunds if you use their services. This is a sign that they’re willing to fraudulently inflate income on your tax forms so that you’ll qualify for more deductions and tax credits.
  • Before hiring tax professionals, take pains to verify their status and credentials by looking them up in the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers.

9. Modified W-8BEN forms that request sensitive information

The W-8BEN is an income tax exemption document for international taxpayers or nonresidents of the United States. Scammers send this form to individuals who might qualify for this exemption, but they modify it so that it requires sensitive information. 

Since the W-8BEN form does exist, it’s easy for scammers to fool people into thinking it’s the real thing. But the true version doesn’t request information such as your passport number, mother’s maiden name, or PIN codes.

Warning signs:

  • Don’t engage in any communication about your W-8BEN form unless you can verify that it comes directly from your bank.
  • Valid W-8BEN forms are not distributed by the IRS, but by employers. You’re meant to submit your completed W-8BEN documents back to the same employer, instead of to the IRS with a tax return.

10. Fake IRS agents offering to help you file a “casualty loss claim”

If you live in an area that was recently affected by a natural disaster, you might be a target of this IRS impersonation scam. Con artists contact victims via email or social media, posing as members of a charitable organization that’s partnering with the IRS to help victims file a casualty loss deduction on their tax returns.

Instead of trying to help, they’re actually trying to steal your sensitive information. If you need help filing a casualty loss claim, call the IRS’ official disaster assistance line at 866-562-5227. 

Warning signs:

  • Don’t engage with unsolicited messages over email, text, or social media that offer help with filing your taxes.
  • Beware of any supposed tax preparer or IRS employee that promises to get you tax exemptions and tax returns. 

The Bottom Line: Don’t Pay the “IRS Scam Tax”

Tax season offers a golden opportunity for scammers to strike. But it’s also an opportunity for you to boost your security and become less vulnerable to cybercriminals. Remember that the dangers of tax scams go deeper than financial losses and IRS audits. When your personal information gets stolen, your risk of identity theft skyrockets. Aura’s extensive all-in-one protection and insurance coverage can help shield you and your whole family from online threats.

Please call or email us for more information and questions.

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Jocelyn Sihathep (Jo1)

Office Manager

We have a Sun Devil in the house! We are honored to add to our team, Jo. She is a graduate of Arizona State University (Fear the Fork) and is looking to broaden her knowledge and understanding of business and accounting.

She is the engine of our fine-tuned machine. Her “can do” attitude, commitment to customer service and outstanding organization skills allows us to focus on what matters most, our clients. She is amazing with technology and strives for excellence. She embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and is a great asset to our team.

Jocelyn Weatherley (Jo2)

Accountant

Jo was previously an accountant for a $60M company and their 13 subsidiaries. She is in charge of our accounting and bookkeeping department and serves our clients on their time schedule. Whether it is weekly, monthly or quarterly she helps provide reliable, useful and accurate information to our clients on their terms.

Jo performs full accrual accounting and is responsible for reconciling all accounts, journal entries, month end closing procedures and preparation of internal financial statements and analytics. She also assists in the preparation of sales and payroll tax returns. She holds a wide range of knowledge, from QuickBooks to travel (she spent most of her life in the UK), she’s your girl. She is excited to join the CCA team and ready to conquer tax season head on!

Dixie Cary

CPA and Tax Manager

Dixie is a Minnesota CPA and experienced accountant. She has over 25 years of accounting in both audit and tax, but her passion is tax. After years in the cold, she decided to leave the mid west and find a new home in Sunny Arizona. We are so happy that Dixie has joined our team.

Dixie leads and manages our entire tax department. She assists and leads a team through our busiest times while delivering quality, complete and accurate tax services for our clients. She is proficient in preparation, planning, and education of federal and state income taxes for individuals, businesses, estates, trusts, and exempt organizations.

Theresa Elaine Valade

CPA and Managing Partner
Theresa has over 27 years of experience in tax, audit and consulting. She was with the International CPA Firm of Arthur Anderson in Phoenix and San Francisco. She most recently was a partner with Moffitt & Company, P.C. Her areas of specialization are business consulting and advisory, audits, income tax planning and preparation, and IRS audit representation. Her industries of specialization are nonprofits, real estate, hospitality, franchises, mortgage banking and brokering, title insurance, escrow, health, and beauty.
One of Theresa’s biggest honors is being named the 2020 CPA firm of the year for her commitment and service to her clients during the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Putting passion and personalization at the forefront Theresa has led her firm to excellence by not only providing measurable results for clients but making them feel well taken care of during times of great uncertainty.
Theresa is also a member of the prestigious, Arizona Society of CPAs, ASCPA, 100% Membership Club. It is an honor to be part of this club that exhibit’s a high level of commitment to the Arizona Society of CPAs. We are privileged to be able to convey to our clients, staff, and colleagues of Theresa’s significant commitment to the CPA profession.