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Watch out for tax scams

February 24, 2017

Amidst tax season, accounting professor Judy Peterson reminds people about the threat of tax scams and phishing. What is phishing? According to the IRS, it’s a scam carried out through unsolicited contact or websites that pose as legitimate sites in order to lure victims into giving them their personal or financial information.

The IRS releases a list called the “Dirty Dozen.” This list informs people of the major scams that are going on prominently during tax season. Some of these include phone scams, return preparer fraud, offshore tax avoidance, fake charities, inflated refund claims, among others.

“One of the most recent scams was people calling payroll departments and companies pretending to be an executive of that company saying they need a list of all the employees and their social security numbers pronto,“ explained Peterson. If people are not aware of these types of actions it is easy to be fooled into the deceptive trap.

As the coordinator of the VITA (volunteer income tax assistance) program, Peterson explained the thorough process VITA goes through to keep things secure. They use Tax Slayer, an online commercial provider contracted through the IRS. There is no use of desktop or laptop computers to store taxpayer information helping to minimize the risk of stolen information. Taxpayers are required to verify their identify with a photo ID and social security cards for every person that will be listed on their return. Other controls are that all taxpayer returns are reviewed, student preparers do not have access to the website or passwords, and all documents and equipment are maintained by either Professor Peterson or Professor Mersch.

So how can you report phishing and online scamming if you see it happening? Peterson provided a list from the IRS. The list explains what to do in cases including receiving suspicious emails, phone calls, letters through the mail, unsolicited faxes, suspicious websites, or unsolicited text messages.

Peterson was sure to include tips from the IRS to keep you safe from identity theft and keep your taxes secure.

1. Always keep a copy of your completed federal and state tax returns.
2. Keep all sensitive records in a secure location, such as a safe.
3. If records are electronic, back them up and make sure they are encrypted.
4. Always dispose of old tax records properly.
5. If disposing of electronic records, wipe the data from the drive to ensure the files are truly gone.

Peterson offers this piece of advice to students as they begin doing their own taxes and staying safe from tax scams. “If you are not doing your own return, watch out for return preparer fraud. Be wary of companies that appear around tax season and then go away. You need to be really careful of who you pick to do your tax return. That’s why we encourage students to become involved with VITA. You need to understand your own return because you are responsible for its contents, whether someone else prepares it for you or not. Students from any discipline may become involved in this program either through INTG403 or ACCT364 in the spring. No prerequisite needed!”

Miranda Jones

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