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Protect Yourself from Scams

August 17, 2020
Weekly Columns

Amid the multitude of hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it is very important to keep in mind that bad actors are out there looking to take advantage of vulnerable targets during this unprecedented crisis. While numerous schemes exist to scam personal and financial information, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has warned taxpayers to look out for fraudulent attempts related to coronavirus relief provided by the federal government. 

According to the IRS, phishing is the most common scheme to look out for – that is, fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. To protect yourself, don’t click on unknown links or websites, especially from senders you don’t recognize. Moreover, be very cautious of any emails you receive claiming to be from the IRS or using keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” or “stimulus.”

Just as social media usage has greatly increased worldwide over the last several years, so has the rate at which bad actors have used those platforms – like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – for their scams. Such schemes often involve convincing a potential victim that he or she is interacting with a person close to them or someone they can trust. However, it is also worth noting that some schemes might not be as personalized. For example, fake charities are often advertised on social media platforms or by phishing schemes. Taxpayers should only consider trusting charities that provide their Employer Identification Number, which can be used to verify their legitimacy. If ever in doubt, the IRS has a searchable database of legitimate charities on its website here: apps.irs.gov/app/eos.

After the significant federal relief provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act earlier this year, criminals have unfortunately tried to steal Economic Impact Payments – either by filing false tax returns or supplying incorrect information to the IRS in order to get refunds sent to wrong addresses or bank accounts. This illustrates and reiterates why it is always important to protect your usernames and passwords and use only trusted and reputable tax preparers. Along with guidance for choosing a tax preparer, the IRS also keeps a database of credential tax professionals and their skill levels here: irs.treasury.gov/rpo.

As you safeguard your own information, it is important to remind your loved ones to be cautious and remain vigilant and look out for them as well. While scammers consider all taxpayers as easy prey, older Americans are usually most susceptible to these crimes. According to the IRS, senior citizens often suffer from financial abuse related to both personal and professional relationships. In fact, out of concern that eligible seniors could be scammed out of their Economic Impact Payments, the IRS warned nursing homes and other care facilities that those payments belong only to the residents – not the care provider. Fortunately, cases of fraud can decrease when a trusted friend or family member actively monitors and assists in the senior's financial affairs.

While the scams discussed here are some of the most common, always be cautious of any person or request asking for personal and financial information. Sadly, the IRS reports that in times of crisis, scams do in fact increase, and it is vitally important you are closely guarding your information.