By Jeanine Skowronski
Filers beware: There’s a good chance there’s a tax scam email in your inbox.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, there’s been an approximate 400% surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season. In other words, plenty of thieves are currently sending out texts and emails under the guise of the IRS or other tax industry players this year. These messages are an attempt to steal personal information or data related to your tax refunds, filing status, transcripts and/or PIN information either directly or through malware that gets downloaded onto your computer when you click on infected links. The information can be used to file false tax returns.
“Watch out for fraudsters slipping these official-looking emails into inboxes, trying to confuse people at the very time they work on their taxes,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a consumer alert re-issued earlier this week. “We urge people not to click on these emails.”
Tax Fraud on the Rise
The IRS’s findings aren’t exactly surprising. The agency announced earlier this year that it’s anticipating $21 billion in tax refund fraud this year. And, just this month, Intuit warned consumers that a fake TurboTax email was making the rounds. Still, the stats should inspire everyone to be a little more careful about what they click on this tax season. Per the agency’s latest consumer alert:
- There were 1,026 incidents reported in January, up from 254 from a year earlier.
- The trend continued in February, nearly doubling the reported number of incidents compared to a year ago. In all, 363 incidents were reported from Feb. 1 to Feb. 16, compared to the 201 incidents reported for the entire month of February 2015.
- This year’s 1,389 incidents have already topped the 2014 yearly total of 1,361, and they are halfway to matching the 2015 total of 2,748.
How to Spot a Tax Scam Email
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to spot a tax scam email. For starters, be extremely skeptical of any emails purportedly from the IRS. The agency says it generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email regarding personal or financial information. Be similarly wary of emails that ask you to update important tax information by clicking on a link. (Recent scam emails the IRS has come across included the subject lines referencing “Get my E-file Pin”, “Order a transcript” and “Get my IP Pin”.) And look for typos or misspellings in the body of the message — they’re a big sign something is amiss.
If you do receive a shady email, refrain from clicking on any line and, instead, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, filing your taxes as early as possible is the best way to minimize the odds of falling victim to taxpayer identity theft. But, if you have reason to believe your personal information was compromised, you should keep an eye on your credit. A sudden drop in credit scores is a sign your identity has been stolen. You can monitor your standing by viewing your two free credit scores each month on Credit.com.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.