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Tax Season Security Tips

Protecting your identity is always important. This is a year-round endeavor. However, during tax season cyber thieves actively find new ways to scam you out of your hard-earned money or your tax refund by spoofing web sites, pretending to be the IRS, along with dozens of other scenarios. With the annual cost of identity theft to businesses and consumers in the billions of dollars, learning how to protect yourself against identity theft and loss can start with the following tips:

  1. Read up on federal and state tax filing processes to know what to expect and what not expect.
  2. The IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) will not initiate contact.
  3. The IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) will not ask for confidential taxpayer info through email or phone.
  4. The IRS and FTB will not call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrests.
  5. Do not click on links in suspicious or unsolicited emails or text messages.
  6. Do not transmit personal information while using public Wi-Fi and do not send tax documents unencrypted.
  7. Reputable tax return preparers have a Preparer Tax ID.

Tax Season Scams

Phishing Email Scams

  • Instructing you to "update your IRS e-file immediately".
  • Requesting personal or financial information.
  • Email related to IRS Refund with link or attachment.
  • Notice of "erroneous refund"

Phone scams

  • Caller posing as IRS demanding payment of taxes or return of money from "erroneous refund".
  • Collection agency calling on behalf of IRS demanding payment with a credit or debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • A pre-recorded call with an urgent message threatening the issuance of a warrant, deportation, or revocation of license either business or driver's license, if you don't call back.
  • Caller claiming to be with IRS TAC (Taxpayer Assistance Center) demands tax payment. Hackers instruct taxpayer to look up local TAC office phone number to verify number.  The hackers hang up, then call back a second time spoofing (faking) the local TAC number and demanding payment in the form of a gift card or some other variation. 

Scams targeting the most vulnerable

  • Immigrants or people with Limited English Proficiency are being threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver's license.
  • People with Disabilities face thieves using video relay services (VRS) to scam those who are deaf or hard of hearing because interpreters on VRS calls don't validate calls.


Ghost tax return preparer - Unethical tax return preparers who prepare but won't sign your return because they're redirecting your refund to their own bank account or falsifying information thereby making you responsible for any IRS audit findings. Note: valid tax professionals sign your return with a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). 

Tax Transcript email scam - Phishing email with attachment described as "tax transcript" or "Tax Account Transcript" is laden with malware.  Note: the IRS would not email sensitive documents like "tax transcripts". 

What the IRS does NOT do:

What the IRS DOES:

What you should DO:

  • Demand payment as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
  • Demand payment of taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. 
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying.
  • General practice is for initial contact be done through regular USPS mail which includes billing for owed taxes.
  • All payments for taxes are made payable to the United States Treasury or can be done online at IRS.gov/payments.
  • Under special circumstances the IRS will call or make a in person appearance: overdue tax bill, secure a delinquent tax return, or delinquent employment tax payment, or tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations 
  • The IRS cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status.
  • Report IRS phone scams or any IRS impersonation to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration using any of these options:
  1. Online at IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting website
  2. Email phishing@irs.gov with the subject line “IRS Phone Scam.”
  3. Call 800-366-4484.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
  • Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

Remember: tax season doesn't end with the April 15th tax filing deadline. And thieves continually use any angle to steal your money directly, pilfer your personal information, or plant malware on your computing systems.


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