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It’s Tax Season: Keep Calm and Carry On

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Sarah Nicholas

This is no ordinary tax season. Our apprehension is normally high during this time, but with the coronavirus outbreak landscape shifting daily, our collective anxiety is higher than normal – just the kind of environment cybercriminals thrive in. While it’s hard to remain calm and vigilant during these tense times, you can limit your exposure to and undermine bad actors by arming yourself with the latest scam information and best cyber safety practices.

Here are some common scams to watch out for:

Tax Identity Theft

What it is:

The use of someone else's personal information to file a fraudulent tax return or claim tax benefits. Since the IRS tries to process refunds in as little as three weeks, the scammers receive their fraudulent refunds in the mail or electronically and quickly turn it into untraceable cash. The Internal Revenue Service estimates that it paid out at least $110 million in identity theft-related tax refund fraud in 2017.

How to avoid it:

Be sure not to click on any suspicious links or attachments. If you use a tax preparer, research them carefully before giving them your sensitive information, such as your social security number. If filing for yourself electronically, use a secure internet connection. Do not file your return from a public area such as a coffee shop.

What if it happens to you?

According to an alert by the Federal Trade Commission, "You may not find out it has happened until you try to file your real tax return and the IRS rejects it as a duplicate filing." Once you discover you’ve been a victim, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission at or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 877-438-4338. File a report with your local law enforcement agency and with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and request they put a “fraud alert” your account.

The IRS also offers this Taxpayer Guide for Identity Theft to help you report to the proper state authorities.

Tax Transcript Scam

What it is:

A scam that tricks taxpayers into opening emails that look like they are from the IRS (from “IRS Online”) but that potentially carry malware. The scam email contains an attachment labeled something like “Tax Account Transcript,” and the subject line includes a phrase along the lines of “tax transcript.” Tax transcripts are summaries of your tax records and history and are available online, but the IRS does not send unsolicited emails to individuals.

How to avoid it:

Don’t open any emails or attachments that appear to come from the IRS, and be sure not to reply to the message.

What if it happens to you?

Forward the suspicious email to [email protected] and permanently delete it.

Impersonation Email Campaign

What is it:

An email impersonating the IRS with subject lines such as "Automatic Income Tax Reminder" or "Electronic Tax Return Reminder." The emails contain links that show an website with details pretending to be about the taxpayer's refund, electronic return or tax account. The emails contain a "temporary password" or "one-time password" to "access" the files to submit the refund. But when taxpayers try to access these, it turns out to be a malicious file. By infecting computers with malware, these imposters are attempting to gain control of the taxpayer's computer or secretly download software that tracks every keystroke, eventually giving them passwords to sensitive accounts.

How to avoid it:

Be on guard constantly. Never open an email or attachments that purport to come from the IRS. Remember that the IRS will never send unsolicited emails about individual tax returns or to request personal financial information.

What if it happens to you?

Report it and forward the suspicious email to the IRS following this phishing and online scams guide.

Cybercriminals never sleep. Check the IRS website often for the latest scams and how to prevent and report them. By remaining informed, calm and vigilant, you can have a safe and uneventful tax season. You can find many other helpful cybersecurity resources on our website. We also invite you to follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Written by: Sarah Nicholas

Sarah is the Director of Communications for Serendipity Communications. She lives in Plainwell, Michigan with her husband, daughters and stepson, with twin stepdaughters nearby. She is passionate about cyber safety education and animal rights and enjoys ballet dancing, reading and volunteering at her children’s school.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Ameris Bank is not affiliated with nor endorses any of the companies featured in this article.