WKYT Investigates | Scams to look out for this tax season

Published: Feb. 26, 2020 at 5:28 PM EST
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With the deadline to file taxes less than a month and a half away, the

wants to make sure that, in the stress and hassle of tax preparation, people are not being scammed.

It happens more often than one might think, IRS officials told WKYT's Garrett Wymer.

"Tax season, unfortunately, is scam season," Luis Garcia, an IRS spokesman, said of the time leading up to April 15.

And scammers are looking not just to hijack unwitting victims' refund checks, but also to swipe all their sensitive personal information to cause more damage.

"Be careful with who you give your taxes to," Garcia said. "Do your homework."

It is a big problem, and it is why the IRS is urging folks to make sure the person doing their taxes is legitimate. One spooky sign in particular to watch out for: the person not signing the tax return before filing it, an illegal practice done by so-called "ghost preparers."

"Be wary of ghosts when you do your taxes," Garcia said, "because they're a big red flag that you might be getting scammed."

And once a scammer has someone's information it can be too late for a victim. In this day and age it takes only a few digits for someone to end up with bigger problems like a stolen identity. But federal agents are also on the job looking to stop serial scammers.

"If you're out there committing crime," said Bryant Jackson, special agent in charge with the IRS criminal investigations arm in Kentucky and Ohio, "we're going to find you."

Jackson and his team investigate tax crimes by combing through financial records to look for patterns and stop fraudsters in their tracks.

"Those that take advantage of individuals knowingly, willfully," Jackson said. "Those are the individuals we're out here policing to make sure that we do our due diligence to take them and take away their liberties and their freedoms for knowingly scamming the system."

So how can you avoid scammers like that?

"This is the one time of year where it's not just your personal information you're giving to sometimes a total stranger, but your children's, your spouse's, everyone in the family is giving their information to this one person," Garcia said. "So make sure you do your homework."

What are some other common tax scams to avoid?

One common scam - not just this time of year, but year-round - involves people posing as IRS agents to try to scare someone into paying them. Some red flags for those, IRS officials say:

  • IRS agents will never threaten you.
  • Actual agents will not demand you pay "right now."
  • They will not require a certain payment method, like a gift card. The IRS does not accept gift cards as payment.

And if an actual IRS agent does show up at your door, Garcia said, it will not be a surprise. You will likely have a stack of notices you received beforehand.

Some common mistakes people make on their taxes can also cause issues.

It is not always a scam that cause problems for folks filing their taxes. To avoid those most common mistakes:

  • Make sure you sign your return before you file it.
  • Double-check your math. Addition and subtraction errors are common, Garcia said. (Using tax prep software should help catch those errors.)
  • Also remember that depending on your income you might qualify for free tax prep help. You can get more information about that here.