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Tips to spot, avoid tax scams

As 2019 tax season approaches, Florida Cabinet, financial experts offer advice

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(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As the 2019 tax season approaches, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody warned of an increased threat of fraud and scams when filing your taxes.

“Scam artists are constantly looking for new and creative ways to steal your money. It is important to stay on guard, especially during tax season, to protect yourself and your business. Make sure you know the warning signs of scams and always remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Patronis said in a news release Friday. 

Recent reports show Florida leads the country in fraud and ranks second in identity theft.

Financial experts with Coastline Federal Credit Union said the IRS warned of a 60 percent increase in email phishing scams in the past year.

A tax-related email phishing scam will typically appear to be from the IRS. Once the victim has opened the email, the scammer will try to get at their personal and financial information. They will then use this information to steal the victim’s identity, empty their accounts or file taxes in the victim’s name and keep the refund.   

The most popular tax-related phishing scams include the following: 

  • Tax transcript scams. Victims are conned into opening emails appearing to be from the IRS with important information about their taxes. These emails actually contain malware. 
  • Threatening emails. These phony emails appear to be from the IRS, demanding immediate payment for unpaid back taxes. When the victim clicks on the embedded link, their device will be infected with malware. 
  • Refund rebound. A crook posing as an IRS agent will email a taxpayer, claiming they’ve been awarded too large a refund. The scammer will demand the immediate return of the “extra” money via prepaid debit card or wire transfer. 
  • Phony phone call. A caller spoofs the IRS’s toll-free number and calls a victim, claiming they owe thousands of dollars in taxes that must be paid immediately under threat of arrest or deportation. 

Patronis' office offered these six tips to protect yourself:

1. File your tax return early. This decreases the amount of time an identity thief has to steal your identity and file a return in your name.

2. Beware of impersonations. Scams take many shapes and forms, such as phone calls, letters and emails. Many IRS impersonators use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a fabricated tax bill. They may even threaten to arrest their would-be victim if the victim doesn’t comply.

3. Be cautious of suspicious phone calls or emails. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.

4. Watch out for bogus charities. Scam artists impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people into sending money or providing personal financial information.

5. File a report with the IRS and police. If you become a victim, file a 14039 form with the IRS and also file an identity theft report with your local police department.

6. Consider a free credit report freeze. By freezing your credit, you can prevent any new accounts from being opened in your name without your authorization. Last year, one of Patronis’ top priorities was removing the credit report freeze fee imposed on Floridians. 

Moody is urging Floridians to take action to prevent identity theft this tax season. 

“As Floridians prepare to file taxes, it is important to take steps to make sure sensitive financial information is protected," Moody said in a news release Monday. "There are some simple steps every taxpayer can take to guard against identity theft, and in recognition of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, my office is offering several tips to help better protect all taxpayers.”

Tax identity thieves will sometimes take extreme measures to access personal information, such as searching through trash cans and dumpsters to find bills and documents; calling, emailing or texting individuals to gain personal information; or posing as a legitimate tax preparer.

To guard against these tactics, taxpayers should:

  • Use a secure internet connection when filing electronically. Do not use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Review a tax preparer’s qualifications before hiring. Any individual with a Preparer Tax Identification Number may prepare and file tax returns for clients; however, there are different levels of credentials, skills and expertise. Click here to find a qualified tax preparer at specific a credential level
  • Check for complaints against the preparer or company with the Better Business Bureau at BBB.org
  • Confirm that any preparer claiming to be an attorney is in good standing with the Florida Bar at FloridaBar.org
  • Ensure to connect with a tax preparer after you file, even after tax season concluded. Should the IRS reject a return or need additional information, reaching a preparer is needed
  • Dispose of old tax records properly. Never place tax returns or supporting documents in the trash; burn or shred old records before disposal