Beware Tax-Related Fraud and Scams
This article applies to: Security & Policy
According to the Federal Trade Commission, tax-related fraud is one of the most common forms of identity theft in the U.S. In 2020, the number of identity theft cases more than doubled year over year. As criminals continue to use stolen identities (Social Security numbers and personal data) to fraudulently obtain tax refunds in advance of the proper recipients, the Internal Revenue Service has greatly increased its scrutiny of refunds to identify signs of theft. Therefore, criminals have changed tactics, and there are many tax-related scams to watch out for.
Recently, the IRS warned university students and employees of an ongoing impersonation email scam targeting educational institutions. The phishing messages display the IRS logo and feature subject lines like “Tax Refund Payment” and “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.” If you receive a suspicious email, do not click on any links or open any attachments. You can report it to the IRS at email@example.com. For help with IT security-related issues, you can also contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The IRS has also alerted taxpayers to a quickly growing scam in which criminals are depositing illegally obtained refunds in the bank accounts of unsuspecting individuals. By doing so, they avoid automated fraud detection systems. To collect the money, they telephone the recipient, posing as a fraud investigator or law enforcement, and demand immediate repayment lest the victim be subject to criminal penalties. The caller sounds very authentic, and under threats and intimidation, many victims hand over the funds. The IRS published an alert on this tax refund scam, including the safe way to properly return an erroneous refund.
Protect yourself and recognize the signs of fraud. Be wary of any telephone or email messages claiming to be from the IRS, especially those demanding immediate payment, or requesting your personal information, including your Social Security number or username and password for e-filing. The IRS will never send an email requesting that you download, upload, or access your tax transcripts. Furthermore, the IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers through email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information.
For more information and helpful tips, visit these trusted sites:
- IT@Cornell: Identity Theft Resources
- IRS.gov: Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts
- IRS.gov: Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft
- CISA.gov: Identity Theft and Internet Scams
- Identity Theft Resource Center: Tax Identity Theft
- National Cyber Security Alliance: Identity Theft and Fraud
- National Cyber Security Alliance: Stay Safe Online During Tax Time