Tax season is here, and that means scammers — especially ones that target Social Security numbers — are ramping up their efforts to steal information and funds from unknowing victims.
Social Security scams are so popular during tax season because fraudsters can use stolen Social Security numbers to claim tax refunds before the owners of those numbers have a chance to file their legitimate tax returns. The deadline to file taxes this year falls on Wednesday, Apr. 15.
Gail Ennis, inspector general at the Social Security Administration, has issued a new warning for the general public to be extremely vigilant of telephone scammers that are now using email to threaten innocent victims and convince them to fork over sensitive information like Social Security numbers, bank account information or even just payment to stop the harassment.
“As we continue to increase public awareness of phone scams, criminals will come up with new ways to convince people of their legitimacy,” Ennis wrote in a Social Security Matters blog post. “This is the latest variation on Social Security phone scams, which continue to be widespread throughout the United States.”
How can you spot one of these scams? Look for grammatical errors and misspellings of common words is one way to stay vigilant. It’s important to pay close attention because scammers will use official letterheads and lots of fancy government jargon in their attempts to pull the wool over your eyes.
Ennis also points to a few things the Social Security Administration will never do while communicating with someone. Per her blog post, Social Security will never:
- threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee;
- promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment;
- require payment by retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card; or
- send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via email.
In almost all cases, if there is a problem with your Social Security information, the SSA will send you a notice in the mail. This includes any payments you may need to make to the association.
During tax season scammers will also turn to impersonating the Internal Revenue Service to try to bully you into handing over your Social Security number to try and snatch your tax return before you file.
The worst part about scams like this, the IRS warns, is that you may not even know you are a victim until you receive a letter from them that says there could be a problem with your return.
If you receive a letter like this, InvesmentNews suggests immediately calling the toll-free number contained within the IRS letter. Make sure to also have a previous tax return on hand so you can verify your identity. After verification, you can say whether you’ve filed your return or not. If not, the IRS will remove that return from your record, and you may have to file a paper return for 2020 instead of opting to e-file.
Sometimes an e-filing can get rejected because the IRS has found a filing with a duplicate Social Security number. If that happens, fill out Identity Theft Affidavit IRS Form 14039 and attach it to your return when filing.
Protecting your Social Security number is and always should be a top priority, but it’s especially important during times when scammers may be more active like tax season.