I-TEAM: Tax scammers use pandemic for new schemes

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 6:34 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s our least favorite time of the year: tax season. And we want to make sure if you are owed a refund, you get it.

The ITEAM found the IRS is warning of new tax scams not only targeting you but also your tax preparer to steal your information.

Another one, claiming unemployment on your behalf even if you never lost your job in the pandemic. Senior ITEAM investigative reporter Liz Owens exposes the schemers and has the information you need before you file.

As unemployment soared in the last two years during the Covid 19 pandemic, Gigi Turner with the better business bureau says scammers got some new ideas.

“The tax scams get bigger every year- they just find new ways to scam people.”

At the top of the list, stealing your information to claim unemployment. Those unemployment benefits are taxable.

“You are not going to know that until the IRS lets you know you need to fill out a form.” Explains Turner. “You will get a 1099 form in the mail saying this is for tax purposes to file with your taxes, and you will be like what is this? That’s when you will know when you will get that form in the mail.”

The IRS says if this happens to you -

  • Do not report the incorrect 1099-G income on your tax return.
  • But “you should report fraud to the issuing state agency and request a corrected form 1099-G.”
  • Do not use it as an excuse to halt your filing. “The processing of your tax return should not be delayed while your report of unemployment identity theft is under investigation.”

Turner warns there is another new scam that is gaining traction.

“Another scam taking place is the actual tax preparer. Scammers are going after the actual tax preparers’ identification number they will call them and say we need your identification number-your tax identification number to validate verify your credentials to make sure your clients are going to get their refund.”

Turner says that slip-up by an accountant could then expose ALL their client’s personal identifying information and leave dozens or hundreds of people...very vulnerable to a scam.

“Your professional big-time tax preparers are not going to fall for that but you got your popup tax preparers who may fall for that. They’re there temporary they got temporary employees working in there after tax season they’re gone-they’re more likely to fall for that, and when they do your information is jeopardized.”

The scam is so rampant, the IRS commissioner Chuck Rettig even warned tax preparers “Identity thieves have been relentless in exploiting the pandemic and the resulting economic pain to trick taxpayers and tax professionals to disclose sensitive information…fighting back against phishing scams requires constant vigilance.”

The IRS says consumers can protect themselves. Two-factor identification could help to protect clients and accountants. Also, keep your antivirus software up to date. It seems basic but it’s important to check. And, Turner advises using encryption is a good option for client/preparer communication.

“Please I cannot express this enough use a different passcode than one that you would normally use, have one separate passcode for the IRS your tax information because once they get that they will have access to everything else as well.”

Having to outthink and outsmart the criminals may feel like a burden, but Turner says it’s increasingly necessary to stay protected.

“The best way to protect yourself is to treat your personal identifying information like gold.”

Scammers are also trying to get us where we are most comfortable: our smartphones.

The IRS warned last month of an increase in text message scams using buzzwords like “stimulus payments” and sending you a phishing link to click. A reminder the IRS does not text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues. If you get one of these, you’re encouraged to save the details of the communication and screenshot the evidence, and email it to phishing@irs.gov

A reminder your taxes are due Monday, April 18.

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