It’s tax time, and you are likely gearing up to receive your tax refund check. Or, maybe you did some careful tax planning and realized that it’s better to owe taxes than receive a refund check. Either way, scammers are out to cash in. There are various tax scams, and we are particularly concerned about email tax scams. As a consumer, and as someone who wants to make the most of your tax refund, it’s important that you think twice before opening an email or clicking links within an email. Also, keep in mind that scam emails can come from people you know. Friends and family members might have their information compromised, and their email accounts may be infected.
Here are some warning signs that an email might be malicious
- the email is sent to a mass group
- the email contains only a link to click
- it refers to a refund or an ACH payment
- it has a .exe file attached (i.e. “filename.exe”)
Most of these are general warnings, and you should think about these when opening emails year-round (not just during tax time). But, we do notice an increased amount of emails referring to tax refunds or ACH payments as we get closer to April 15.
Beware of Scams Pretending to Be Real Companies
Scammers are not above pretending to be tax planning and filing companies, and they may even be posing as the company you use to file your taxes. These scam emails can be particularly deceptive, because you might have a high level of trust with the actual company.
Here are things to look for in suspicious emails that appear to be from real companies:
- Spelling errors in the body of the “official looking” email
- If there is a threat to close your account or “lock you out”
- If the email requests payment directly
What is Your Gut Feeling?
If an email looks or feels suspicious, take it very seriously. Your gut feeling is probably trying to “tell you something.” It’s better to take extra precautions than to become a victim of identity theft or risk losing your tax refund.
Here are precautions you should take to validate an email:
- If you know the person that sent it, ask them if they sent you something. This might help them too, because they may not realize that their email account has been compromised.
- Do not open attachments until you are sure you know the source of the email and that this source can be trusted.
- If you think an email referring to a refund is real, contact the company or the person who filed your taxes and check with them.
- Never accept an ACH payment from anyone you don’t know or a deal that sounds too good to be true (it probably is).
How can I tell if a link is real?
Links in an email can take you to potentially dangerous sites that can infect your computer. Or, if you are being targeted by a phishing scam, the link may take you to a fake website. This site might look similar to the real website for a company, but if you put in your personal information, it could go into the wrong hands. With tax scams, this could even result in you losing your tax refund check.
Here is a simple tip to check the validity of a link in an email:
If you’re like us, you did some very careful tax planning this year and can’t afford any trouble, especially something as serious as losing your tax refund check in a scam. Use these tips to prevent theft and keep yourself from becoming a victim of fraud. Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions is here to offer you more financial advice and counseling, including free credit counseling and nonprofit debt management.