WASHINGTON (7News) — This year's tax filing deadline is closing in, and so are the scammers.
Criminals are pulling out the dirtiest tricks to target your tax refunds, checking accounts and identity. And it often starts with calling, texting or emailing you and pretending they’re from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Here’s the thing: The IRS won’t call you. They won’t text you. And they will not email you.
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“The fact is your first contact from the IRS is gonna be through U.S. Mail. We're not gonna call you or text you out of the blue,” said Anthony Burke of the IRS.
But most people don't know that.
This is how criminals have tricked Americans out of more than $28 million since 2018 --- pretending to be the IRS on the phone, text and email.
And tax season is their one-stop shop.
“How often is that much of your highly personal data in one place at one time?” said Cybersecurity Analyst, Alex Hamerstone. “Just about everything that a scammer could want is right there.”
Everything from social security numbers and income records to addresses and bank account information is all neatly packaged for criminals who take advantage of the chaos around tax time.
“Scammers love a couple of things, right? And one of them is urgency,” said Hamerstone. “They always want you to do something quickly.”
And they've mastered getting you to make a snap decision out of fear, like the threat of a tax lien or a canceled refund.
The IRS recently published its "Dirty Dozen" list of the worst tax scams that peak during filing season, many of which include scare tactics.
“They'll claim just about anything. They'll claim to be from the IRS. They'll threaten that they're gonna cancel your social security number and if you don't share some information, that's going to happen to you,” said Hamerstone.
And don't think you're in the clear after tax day. Hamerstone said buckle up for a whole new round of scams, often coming from spoofed numbers that appear to be from a legitimate source.
“Scammers will even claim that you got too much for a refund and you owe something back. Or they may claim that you didn't get enough. They'll call and pretend to be the IRS and say 'Hey, you know, you got a thousand-dollar return. We really meant to give you $5,000. Can you share your bank account information so we can deposit it?’”
Hamerstone said the best way to defend yourself is to always be skeptical and to know what's not going to happen.
"There are very few things in life that are a hundred percent true, but I can tell you with a hundred percent certainty that you will never, ever, ever pay your tax bill with gift cards, "said Hamerstone. "It will never happen that the IRS will request that you go down to the store and buy a bunch of gift cards and send them pictures of the back of those gift cards to pay your taxes. And it seems really ridiculous. But that happens quite often, right? People, fall for that kind of thing. So now that that's just not something in the realm of possibility."
Hamerstone said to understand what the baseline looks like. That means understanding how the IRS actually operates so you can then be alert to things that operate outside of that.
“These scammers are really good at what they do,” said Hamerstone. “I mean this is really their full time occupation. They're very good at creating these fake situations that are going to get people to give up their information and their money."
Anthony Burke of the IRS said instead of trusting any incoming messages that purport to be from the IRS, you should go directly to the IRS website, create your own account and monitor any interaction from there. And there are always IRS agents available to verify contact, or answer questions.