4 Ways to Identify a Tax Scam

Tax filing season is of course a busy time of year. It’s also a busy time of year for scammers. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, of the $1.48 billion total reported fraud, consumers lost nearly $488 million to imposter scams in 2018. Fraud schemes range from debt collector calls or emails claiming you haven’t paid your taxes, to someone posing as an official from the IRS or local law enforcement agency threatening arrest, suspension of your driver’s license or some other penalty if you don’t immediately wire funds to pay your taxes. The scams have become increasingly sophisticated and hard to detect.

Here is what you need to know about the IRS and tax scams:

The first contact from the IRS is through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media channels. Even if they call you to set up appointments or discuss an audit, you would first receive notification by mail. Only after mailing an official notification of an audit can an auditor/tax examiner follow up by phone. Forward any suspicious emails to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Alleged IRS or tax debt collection calls should be reported to (800) 366-4484. 

Payments to the IRS are only payable to the United State Treasury. They do not accept payment in the form of prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.

IRS agents will NEVER demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or dispute the amount they say you owe. They must advise you of your rights as a taxpayer. They CANNOT threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying your taxes. The IRS also has zero authority to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status.

If an IRS representative calls or comes to a home or business unannounced to collect a tax debt or as part of an investigation, they will always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. You have a right to see the credentials and can call the IRS to verify the identity/information on the representative’s HSPD-12 card.

The moral of the story: be aware, do your research, and don’t become a victim of a tax scam this tax filing season!

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

 

Let the Taxpayer Beware: Learn to Spot 6 Common Tax Scams

Now that your W2s and miscellaneous tax documents have arrived, tax season is officially in full swing. While it’s easy to get lost in optimistic daydreams about your tax refund and all you’re planning to do with it, it’s important to remember that scam artists are probably dreaming about what they could do with your refund as well.

After reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 cases in 2015, tax refund fraud has been declining thanks to significant enforcement efforts by federal, state, and private agencies. While these statistics are encouraging, they also highlight the ongoing need for caution and vigilance. So, before you file your 2018 taxes or pay someone to file for you, we want to remind you about six of the most common tax-related scams happening today.

Phishing Emails 

This one is relatively easy to spot. Why’s that, you ask? Because the IRS doesn’t initiate communication with taxpayers via email. So, if you see an email from the IRS pop up in your inbox—even one that looks remarkably official, don’t open it. For good measure, go ahead and mark it as spam before deleting it. Emails of this type have only one goal: to trick you into clicking a fraudulent hyperlink or responding with sensitive personal information.

Phishing 2.0

In 2018, the IRS reported a new twist on traditional phishing scams. In the new approach, fraudsters hacked the systems of legitimate tax professionals, stole tax returns containing personal details, and then deposited funds directly into taxpayer bank accounts. After those deposits hit the bank, the criminals posed as the IRS or collection agencies and contacted account holders demanding a resolution to the error. The goal of these scams is not to simply regain the money deposited “in error,” but to get the victim to share account details that can be used to access the account at another time. If you find yourself with an unexpected deposit in your bank account, the IRS offers helpful instructions here.

Phone scams 

Though they come via phone call, these scams are essentially the same as phishing emails. The difference lies in the fact that con artists can spoof IRS phone numbers in an attempt to convince unsuspecting people to answer the call. Once the phone call is underway, the person on the other end claims to be an IRS agent and tries to get the individual to confirm private account details in an attempt to “resolve the situation.” If they don’t get the results they’re hoping for, the fraudsters may even follow-up with phone calls where they impersonate law enforcement officials and threaten legal action. To avoid accidentally divulging personal details, it’s best to ignore these calls completely. Just as the IRS doesn’t initially contact taxpayers by email, they also don’t initiate official communication by phone either.

Refund Theft 

This type of scam takes place at the intersection of identity theft and financial fraud. Using a variety of tactics, criminals obtain taxpayer social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name—often claiming substantial refunds. Since this happens without the knowledge of the victim, it only comes to light when their legitimate tax return is rejected due to a previous return already filed under the same social security number. While the IRS is committed to resolving these issues when they happen, the process can be long and tedious. To safeguard yourself against tax refund theft, IRS officials recommend obtaining an Identity Protection PIN, also known as an IP PIN. Instructions for securing a PIN can be found on the official IRS website.

Shady Tax Prep Services

Since an estimated 79 million Americans use paid tax preparation services, there are considerable opportunities for dishonest preparers to abuse the system. One of the most common scams involves a preparer illegally inflating an individual’s refund and collecting a percentage of the taxpayer’s refund instead of a flat fee. Many times, the problem isn’t identified until after the refund has been issued and the preparer’s fee has been collected. In these scams, the preparer is long gone by the time that the problem is identified, and the taxpayer is responsible for handling the audit on their own. While the practice of a tax preparer charging a percentage of refund isn’t technically illegal, you’re better off avoiding this type of arrangement and opting for a flat-fee service instead.

Public Wi-Fi Scammers

It seems like this one should go without saying, but we could all use a reminder from time to time. The public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores can be great for hopping online to browse social media, but it’s terrible for filing your taxes. Not only can these unsecured networks be accessed by almost anyone, but dishonest scammers can also set up hot spots that look like the establishment’s Wi-Fi and intercept logins, passwords, and personal information. So, if you’re filing taxes electronically this year (and considering the fact that approximately 90% of taxpayers filed electronically in 2018, you probably are), do yourself a favor: file at home from your personal computer and your secure Internet connection.

As with most financial scams, these can be simple to sidestep as long as you know the signs to look for. If you observe questionable practices, want to read up more on tax season scams, or have additional tax-related concerns, you can find more information and helpful instructions here on the official IRS website.

If you are receiving a federal or state tax refund this year and want to make the most of your money, contact us here at First Financial Federal Credit Union. Our financial specialists can help you assess your financial situation and show you all the beneficial programs and products available to you as a credit union member. Call, email, or stop by a branch today!

Don’t Make These Tax Filing Mistakes

From math errors to missing Social Security Numbers to forms that aren’t signed, there are plenty of common tax mistakes that taxpayers can make when filing their returns. These mistakes can lead to delays in processing returns and issuing refunds. If serious enough, they might even lead to an IRS audit. Fortunately though, the IRS does allow do-overs. You can usually file an amended return if you realize that you’ve made a mistake. But that’s the problem — you might not realize you’ve made a mistake. Brush up on the following tax fails before you file, so you can avoid making the same errors this tax season.

Waiting Until the Last Minute to File

Although plenty of people put off doing their taxes, waiting until the last minute to file a tax return can backfire.  Do you really want to be scrambling to make the tax filing deadline (April 15th)? In a rush to file, you may forget to actually pay your taxes if you owe – which can result in a late payment penalty from the IRS (0.5% of taxes owed each month the payment is late). File as early as possible and avoid this headache altogether.

Forgetting to Pay Taxes on a Cashed-Out IRA

Did you cash out IRA money last year or plan to roll one over and then never did? If you forget to do this, the amount that has been cashed out is taxable. You also need to report any IRA changes on your tax return. If you forget to do this, it could result in a tax audit. And once that happens, everything will be checked with a fine tooth comb. The moral of the story: don’t forget to report any retirement account changes you made in the last year.

Mailing the Tax Check to the Wrong Agency

If you owe taxes or have a situation in which you have to pay taxes on an employee during the year (you hired a nanny to watch your children and are paying taxes on the nanny’s wages), be sure your payment is going to the right place. Failure to do this can again result in late fees and a giant headache. The same goes for electronic payments. Double check the mailing address and then check again.

Not Knowing the Filing Deadline for Businesses

Are you an S corporation? Typically, an S corporation business must file a return by the 15th day of the third month — not the fourth month, according to the IRS. Failure to file by the correct deadline could result in a file penalty fine of $450.

Not Making Estimated Tax Payments

Because self-employed workers don’t have employers to withhold taxes from their paycheck for them, they have to make estimated tax payments to the IRS throughout the year.  A good habit to get into here if this pertains to you, is to set aside money each month and try to estimate as accurately as you can – should you owe more on taxes when you file.

Forgetting to Make Tax Payments

This is a pretty straightforward one – don’t forget to make your tax payments if you owe this year. And if you are self-employed, don’t forget to send in your estimated tax payments. If you are required to send in estimated tax payments and you forget, you could receive an underpayment penalty fee.

Trying to DIY Tricky Tax Returns

If your tax situation is simple enough to file the 1040 form, you don’t need to hire a professional to prepare your return. But if you don’t have a simple tax situation and have multiple sources of income, own a home (or two), have investments, a military pension, etc. – it might be a good idea to let a professional handle filing your return for you.  A tax accountant can help you identify expenses you hadn’t previously been claiming as deductions, which can ultimately lower your tax bill. They’ll also look at your withholding with you, and see if it can be adjusted if you always seem to owe the IRS money come tax time each year. Sure – you’re going to have to pay for this service, but if you have a complicated tax return it will probably end up saving you money (and aggravation) in the long run.

More sound advice: it’s best to prepare for tax season all throughout the year. As you collect receipts, paperwork, statements, and so forth during the year – put them in a file and take them out and go over them right at the start of each new year. This way you stay on top of any changes that come up throughout the year, and aren’t digging for items at the last minute. Be prepared and organized, and filing your taxes each year will become second nature.

Article Source: Cameron Huddleston for Gobankingrates.com

Important Member Alert: Tax Season Phishing Scams

It’s tax filing season, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax agencies have issued warnings related to a recent increase in sophisticated phishing emails. The emails appear to come from the IRS and demand a payment or threaten to seize tax refunds as a result of non-payment.

What is phishing? Phishing is a tactic cyber criminals use to collect an individual’s online banking, credit card, or other identifying account information. Once received, the cyber criminals can use your information and make transactions as you.

The tax refund season is the time of year in which the majority of tax related scams occur and there is increased vulnerability. This year, the IRS has reported a 60% increase in phishing emails attempting to steal taxpayer funds and tax-related information.

Phishing emails can be hard to detect. Often, intimidation tactics and urgent requests are commonly used by cyber criminals. The emails sent in a phishing attempt will appear to come from a trusted source, using a spoofed or compromised email address. Phishing emails usually contain stolen logos and often include hyperlinks to malicious websites, or contain attachments that are embedded with malware or viruses.

Targeted tax time victims have reported that their emails contained the following:

  • An email originating from IRS Online
  • Contained an attachment titled “Tax Account Transcript”
  • A subject line using the phrase “Tax Transcript”

In addition to email phishing scams, similar phone scams have also been reported. A common phishing phone attempt involved a caller claiming to be from the IRS and threatening victims with a lawsuit or arrest if a tax payment isn’t made immediately with a debit card.

To reduce your risk of falling victim to a phishing scam:

  • Remember that the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text, or social media network to request personal or financial information.
  • The IRS also will never call a taxpayer and threaten a lawsuit or arrest.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email appears to be from someone you know, subtle variations will be present in the sender’s email address (for example: JohnSmith1@abc.com instead of JohnSmithI@abc.com).
  • Another red flag for email recipients includes grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate professional organizations and agencies typically do not contain such errors in their communications.
  • For more information on preventing and reporting tax scams to the IRS, click here.

Article Source: CUNA Risk Alert, December 2018

3 Ways to Prepare for Next Tax Season

 

Tax season is finally coming to a close. Believe it or not, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. If filing your taxes was a headache and a hassle this year, here are a few tips to get you prepared for next time.

Get organized: Did you waste a bunch of time looking for receipts this year? Create a system, whether it’s a file cabinet or a shoebox, and keep track of those receipts and other financial documents you may need at the end of the year. Keep a tally of your charitable and retirement contributions and you’ll be ready to go as soon as you get that W-2 in the mail.

Keep track of changes: What’s happened to you this year, and what will be happening in the next few months? Are you getting married? Having a baby? Buying a house? Opening up a Roth IRA? All of these things will affect your filing status, so make sure you’re up to speed on how any of things will affect your filing process.

Be patient: Do you have a side business or do freelance work? If so, any number of hiccups can occur during tax preparation. Be prepared – but know it’s not a huge deal if you have to file an extension. If you find yourself in this boat, head on over to IRS.gov and get an extension form.

With a little preparation, you can make the tax season process a lot easier.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

 

Important Member Alert: Tax Scams

We are in the midst of tax season, and you guessed it – the fraudsters are at it again! Please be on the lookout for the following tax scams, where the scammers have been posing as the IRS via phone or email. The most important thing to remember here is that the IRS will never contact you via phone or email.

Click here to watch a short video from NBC Nightly News, which explains some of the recent tax scams.

In the first tax scam scenario, fraudsters will have already obtained an individual’s non-public personal information (name, SSN, date of birth) and bank account information. They may have obtained this information in many different ways (dumpster diving, computer hacking, stolen wallet, pretext calling). They will then file a false tax return using the individual’s name and information. Once they receive confirmation that the tax return has been deposited into the individual’s bank account, they will contact the individual via telephone posing as an employee of the IRS. They will state the funds were deposited to their account in error and order them to pay the funds back or suffer penalties.

In the second tax scam scenario, a fraudster will contact an individual via phone or email, again posing as a representative from the IRS. They will state that they owe back taxes and demand payment from the individual. They will attempt to obtain the individual’s checking account/bank routing number or credit card information to directly debit their account, or they may instruct them to mail a check.

Once again, the IRS will never contact anyone via phone or email – they will only use regular US postal mail. If you receive a phone call or email from the “IRS” – it is not the IRS.

Have you received a tax refund you didn’t file for yet?

  • Contact your financial institution immediately.
  • Have your financial institution return anything direct deposited into your account to the IRS, and then call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040
  • For an actual check received in the mail, write VOID across the front of the check and mail it to the IRS location closest to you by entering your zip code at IRS.gov
  • If you cashed the check, you will need to reimburse the IRS with a personal check.
  • For further instructions, visit the tax fraud section of the IRS’ website here.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a tax scam, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm.

Article Sources: NBC Nightly News and IRS.gov