Fact Checked

Look out for these tax phishing scams over the holidays, IRS warns

Man talking on the phone and looking at his computer, worried about an IRS phishing scamImage: Man talking on the phone and looking at his computer, worried about an IRS phishing scam
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year for tax fraudsters.

That’s why as part of National Tax Security Awareness Week, the Internal Revenue Service is warning Americans not to fall for tax-related phishing attempts — think any kind of communication that asks you to give out personal information or demands a tax payment in any way that’s not an official IRS letter.

According to the IRS, 90% of these phishing attempts start with an email. But fraudsters may also use phone calls or letters sent in the mail. Read on to learn what to watch out for and how you can help guard against becoming the victim of a tax-related phishing scam.

Want to know more?

How can you tell if a message is a fraud?

It’s understandable that you feel an extra sense of urgency to respond to an email, letter or phone call that claims to be from a government agency like the IRS. But fraudsters are counting on your quick, panicked response.

Don’t fall for it.

Instead, pause before you respond and look for the following red flags to help determine whether the communication you’ve received is a phishing scam.

  • It’s an email. It’s not likely that the IRS will ever contact you via email. Here’s a look at ways the IRS will actually contact you.
  • The email is asking you to click on a link or open an attachment. Phishing emails may include links that send you to legitimate-looking websites or force you to download attachments. But fraudsters may control the website, and the download may contain malicious software to gain access to your personal information, the IRS says.
  • You’re being asked for payment information. The IRS will never ask for your credit card or bank account number over the phone before mailing the actual tax bill. If the email, phone call or other communication you’ve received asks you to provide payment information, this is a red flag, especially if you haven’t received a tax bill in the mail from the IRS.
  • The communication says you have to pay a certain way. The IRS will never ask you to pay them with gift cards or prepaid debit cards, and will provide you options to make a payment.
  • The communication has incorrect contact information or payment details. Some impostors send fake letters rather than emails. The IRS lists a few potential signs that they’re fake: Look for incorrect IRS phone numbers or requests to make payments to the IRS rather than to the legitimate payee, the United States Treasury.

What can you do?

If you’ve received a communication claiming it’s from the IRS and you’re not sure it’s valid, call the IRS help line at 1-800-829-1040. That way you can speak to an authorized IRS representative to verify that it has tried to contact you.

You can also register at IRS.gov and check your account balance to see if any payment is due.

And it may be a good idea to monitor your credit reports so if you fall victim to a tax phishing scam, you can take action immediately. If you’re a Credit Karma member, you can get free credit monitoring.

About the author: Paris Ward is a content strategist at Credit Karma, providing readers with the latest news that will aid their financial progress. She has more than a decade of experience as a writer and editor and holds a bachelor’s… Read more.