Tax Identity Theft: Protect Yourself from Tax Return Scams & Frauds

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Tax season, the time of year when financial matters come under scrutiny, can unfortunately attract a darker side – tax identity theft. In 2023 alone, it was reported that according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the IRS had flagged more than 1 million tax returns by early March as being filed by potential identity thieves.

Have you been scammed? Check your personal info is safe.

This blog sheds light on the various forms of tax scams and how to navigate the threat of tax identity theft, from being aware of fraudulent calls by supposed US tax experts to recognizing the signs of tax refund fraud and other cunning schemes. Additionally, we'll explore preventative measures and the role of cybersecurity products in safeguarding against these threats.

US tax experts scam calls: Know the red flags

Fraudulent calls from individuals claiming to be US tax experts can be a common tactic employed by scammers. They may pose as IRS agents, tax preparers, or legal professionals, often threatening legal action if immediate payment is not made.

Red flags that a US ‘tax expert’ call may be a scam include:

  • Unsolicited calls demanding immediate payment.
  • Threats of legal action or arrest for non-compliance.
  • Requests for payment via unconventional methods, such as gift cards or wire transfers.

Tax refund fraud: A sneaky scheme

Tax refund fraud occurs when a scammer uses stolen personal information to file a fraudulent tax return, claiming a refund. Victims often remain unaware until they attempt to file their legitimate return.

Red flags that tax refund fraud may be occurring include:

  • Rejection of your tax return due to a duplicate Social Security number.
  • Unexpected notifications of a filed tax return when you haven't submitted one.

‘Fake IRS refund checks’ alerts: What to look out for

A ‘fake IRS refund check’, or ‘fake IRS check’, refers to a counterfeit or fraudulent check that appears to be issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a government agency responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing tax laws in the United States. These fake checks are often used as part of tax return scams designed to deceive individuals into believing they have received a tax refund, stimulus payment, or other financial benefit from the IRS.

Here's how the scam typically works:

  • Scammers send out counterfeit checks through the mail, electronically, or as part of a phishing scheme. The check may look legitimate, bearing the IRS logo, official-looking seals, and a routing number.
  • Victims are instructed to deposit the check into their bank account or cash it at a financial institution. The scammer may provide various reasons for the payment, such as a tax refund, stimulus payment, or lottery winnings.
  • After depositing the fake check, victims are asked to send a portion of the funds back to the scammer or a third party, often via wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. The scammer may claim that the funds are needed to cover taxes, processing fees, or other expenses.
  • Weeks later, the victim's bank discovers that the check is counterfeit, and the deposited funds are deducted from the victim's account. By this time, the scammer has already received the wired or transferred funds, leaving the victim responsible for any losses incurred.

It’s important to note that the IRS does not typically send unsolicited refunds or payments by check without prior communication with the taxpayer, nor does the IRS request personal or financial information, such as Social Security numbers or bank account details, via email, phone calls, or text messages.

Have you been scammed? Check your personal info is safe.

If you receive a suspicious check claiming to be from the IRS or any other government agency, and believe it could be a fake IRS refund check, you should:

  • Verify the check: Contact the IRS or your bank to verify the authenticity of the check before depositing or cashing it.
  • Report the scam: Report the incident to the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help prevent further fraud and protect others from falling victim to similar scams.

Other tax return scams: Staying informed

Phishing emails:

Scammers may send phishing emails posing as tax authorities, prompting recipients to click on malicious links or provide personal information.

Fake tax software:

Fraudulent tax software may be used to collect sensitive information or install malware on victims' devices.


Scammers may use deceptive tactics, claiming to need personal information for tax-related purposes.

Preventative measures: Safeguarding your finances

In order to not fall victim to tax identity theft, utilize these preventative measures:

1. Stay informed:

  • Educate yourself about common tax scams and stay updated on current tactics used by fraudsters.

2. Verify caller identity:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a tax professional, ask for their credentials and verify their identity independently.

3. Use secure networks:

  • When filing taxes online, use secure and trusted networks to prevent interception of sensitive data.

4. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA):

5. Protect personal information:

6. Be skeptical of emails:

  • Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unsolicited emails. Verify the legitimacy of communication with official sources.

Cybersecurity products for added protection

In addition to the tips mentioned above, you can also bolster your defense against all types of online scams by enhancing your cybersecurity:

1. Antivirus and anti-malware software:

  • Protect your devices from malware that may be used to steal personal information with antivirus software such as RAV Endpoint Protection.

2. VPN (Virtual Private Network):

  • Encrypt your internet connection with a VPN such as RAV VPN, in order to enhance privacy and security, especially when accessing tax-related information online.

3. Identity theft protection services:

  • Consider using identity theft protection services, such as the Online Security browser extension, that monitor for suspicious activity and provide alerts in case of potential threats.

Have you been scammed? Check your personal info is safe.

Tax identity theft is a serious concern, but with awareness, vigilance, and the right cybersecurity measures, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these scams. Stay informed, verify information independently, and prioritize the protection of your personal and financial data during tax season and beyond.

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