tax scamsWith the Oct. 17 deadline for tax extensions quickly approaching, some scammers might try to take advantage of the last minute rush to file. As we’ve mentioned numerous times before, scams, including tax scams, happen year-round, which means you need to be aware of them throughout the year. That said, those filing their taxes within the next week should be extra vigilant, as they may become unwilling targets. Here are some of the scams you’ll want to look out for.

Phone scams

Phone scams are one of the universal schemes shared among all scammers. From phony IRS call centers to fake tech support services to illegitimate debt collectors, this scam relies on a very consistent set of features. Phone scammers often pose as an authority figure, like an IRS investigator, and say the victim will get an outrageous punishment, like 10 years in prison, if they don’t meet their requests. Fearing this call may be legitimate, the victim provides the scammer with personal information and/or money.

While this kind of call may seem like the real deal, as you’re filing your taxes within the next week, it’s essential to remember a few things to help you spot a scam. First, the IRS will never initiate contact with you through the phone, as the agency always initiates contact with taxpayers through the mail. Next, a government agency like the IRS will never threaten to garnish wages or arrest you over the phone. In addition, the IRS will never require a specific payment type, like a prepaid debit card, or ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone. Finally, a legitimate IRS agent will never threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest you for not paying. In the event that you receive a threatening call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or any other federal agency, you should recognize that it’s a scam, hang up immediately and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as well as the FTC. You can also confirm whether or not you owe money to the IRS by calling the phone numbers listed on its site.

Phishing emails

This year the IRS reported that it saw an approximate 400% increase in incidents of phishing and malware scams. Given that over 80% of taxpayers file online, scammers have a large audience that they can effectively target through cybercrime. Similar to phone scams, phishing attempts are usually emails demanding victims’ money or personal information without any prior form of communication having been established. These emails usually contain a link that the victim must click to “resolve the issue.” Once they click on the link, they are either asked to input their personal information or provide their credit card number, which they are unknowingly handing over to a scammer. As the IRS points out, it will never initiate communications via email. As such, if you receive any requests from the IRS over email, you should be skeptical. If you think the email may be legitimate, you can contact the IRS directly to find out more about the inquiry, and if you suspect it’s a scam, you should forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

Tax preparer fraud

When it comes to filing taxes, most taxpayers look for a tax preparer that will allow them to file quickly and affordably, especially as it gets closer to the filing deadline. While it may be easy to sign on for the cheapest preparer you find, it’s important to aware that it not all tax preparers are legitimate, and any preparer promising you a super quick turnaround for your return or a large refund might not be as thorough or trustworthy as they appear. And opting for an unprofessional or malicious preparer can only cause more of a headache, as the fraudster may try to falsify your return, commit identity theft or steal your refund. While all of these behaviors are horrible, it’s a false tax return that can get the average taxpayer into deep trouble, as the IRS considers taxpayers personally responsible for all the information on their tax return, and this type of fraud is a federal offense with steep penalties. That’s why it’s important to confirm the legitimacy of a service before you start filling out your tax forms — it will make your tax-filing process easier in the long run.

If you’re looking for an easy and trustworthy way to file your taxes before the Oct. 17 deadline, you should consider e-filing through an online tax preparation service. Not only does e-filing allow you to file taxes from home, but it also streamlines the process. To start, you’ll answer a series of questions and input the information from your tax-related documents. Next, the e-filing software will automatically detect your refund. Finally, you confirm the deductions and credits and send your return off to the IRS immediately. Although e-filing is safe and easy, some people prefer an in-person preparer. If you’re one of those people, you’ll need to make sure to vet the potential preparer well. Confirm they’re working for a legitimate organization and have some type of certification or training, then verify the information with another source like the IRS or BBB. The IRS has a guide that details how to select a trustworthy preparer and what to do if you suspect your preparer is scamming or misleading you.

For more information about tax scams as well as tax preparedness, keep reading our tax preparation blog. And read our tax preparation service reviews to find the best service for filing your taxes before next week’s deadline.