Northwest Herald

Oliver: IRS warns taxpayers that fraudsters can make tax season even more stressful

For a lot of us, tax season causes a lot of stress. Making sure we have everything we need, knowing which form to use and the like can be a source of anxiety.

Not surprisingly, the crooks of the world have found a way to exploit tax time. It’s so prevalent that the Internal Revenue Service is warning us taxpayers to be aware of several scams that are designed to steal sensitive information.

“Scammers are relentless in their attempts to obtain sensitive financial and personal information, and impersonating the IRS remains a favorite tactic,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a recent news release. “People can be anxious to get the latest information about their refund or other tax issues, so scammers frequently try using the IRS as a way to trick people. The IRS urges people to be extra cautious about unsolicited messages and avoid clicking any links in an unsolicited email or text if they are uncertain.”

Here’s a very important fact: The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail and will never initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or social media regarding a bill or tax refund. If we remember that, we’re already ahead of the fraudsters.

The IRS says that email and text scams targeting taxpayers peak during tax season, but they continue through the year. Not only that, but the bad guys also go after tax professionals, payroll providers and human resource departments because they have sensitive personal and financial information.

Two main types of scams the IRS wants us to be on the lookout for:

Phishing: This is an email sent by fraudsters claiming to be from the IRS. The email lures victims with a phony tax refund or threatening them with false legal or criminal charges for tax fraud.

Smishing: A text or smartphone SMS message often uses alarming language, such as “Your account has been put on hold,” or “Unusual Activity Report,” with a bogus “Solutions” link to restore the account. Unexpected tax refunds are another potential lure here.

Here’s another key thing to remember: Always verify the identity of the sender by using another communication method. For instance, call a number that you independently know to be accurate, not the number provided in the email or text.

If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS that contains a request for personal information, taxes associated with a large investment inheritance or lottery:

* Don’t reply.

* Don’t open any attachments. This can contain malicious code.

* Don’t click on any links. If you inadvertently clicked on links in a suspicious email or website and entered confidential information, visit the IRS’ identity protection page.

* Send the full email headers or forward the email to Don’t forward screenshots or scanned images of emails because this removes valuable information.

* Delete the original email.

If it’s a text:

* Don’t reply and don’t open any attachments.

* Don’t click on any links. If you clicked on a link and entered confidential information, visit the IRS’ Identity Theft Central.

* Report the message to 7726 (SPAM).

* Include both the Caller ID and the message body in an email and send to Copy the Caller ID from the message by pressing and holding on the body of the text message, then select copy, paste into the email. If you are unable to do that, forward a screenshot of the message.

* Delete the original text.

The Report Phishing and Online Scams page at has even more information. Find it by clicking “Help” on the main page.

If you have lost money in an IRS-related scam, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Let’s hope this never happens to any of us. But at least now we know what to do.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.