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Beware of Scams as Tax Deadlines Approach

Don’t let crooks prey on your vulnerabilities as you rush to finish and file

Man doing his taxes

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En español | As the deadline nears for filing federal income tax returns, we all need to be on the lookout for scam artists who step up their efforts to steal our money during this season. Fraudulent schemes cost Americans more than $18 billion last year — and people 50 and over are often prime targets. Here are three scams to watch for during tax season.

  • Identity theft: This happens when someone obtains personal information — your Social Security number, address, birth date or bank account number — for fraudulent purposes. A study by Javelin Strategy & Research found identity thieves victimized 14.4 million people in 2018, stealing $14.7 billion. Scammers claiming to represent the IRS may ask for personal or financial information or send phishing emails with links that infect your computer or smartphone with data-harvesting malware. Once they have your information, they'll open new credit accounts and make expensive purchases.
  • Tax ID theft: This is very common this time of year. Here’s how it works: Someone who has obtained your personal information files a tax return in your name, usually as early as possible so the phony tax return gets to the IRS before the real one. By the time you file your real return, the scammer may have already received a refund, and you won’t know you’ve been victimized until the IRS informs you that it has already received your return. Scammers have many ways of stealing your tax data: by stealing your mail or tax returns, corrupt tax preparation services, phishing emails from impostors or by hacking into employers’ or tax firms’ personnel records.
  • IRS impostor scam: Some con artists pretending to be IRS agents will call potential victims, claim they have an unpaid tax bill and threaten them with arrest unless they pay up immediately. These scammers will often trick a caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from an actual IRS office. They may even know part of the victim’s Social Security number. The Treasury Department’s inspector general received reports of more than 1.8 million calls from IRS impersonators costing more than 10,000 victims nearly $54 million. You should know that the IRS communicates mostly through the mail, even in cases of delinquent taxes. It will generally contact you by phone or in person only after multiple written notices.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.