Cybersecurity experts warn consumers about online scams this tax season

Here are some tips to avoid becoming victim
Posted at 4:31 PM, Mar 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-14 16:46:53-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There is about a month left to file your taxes, which is why cybersecurity experts are reminding consumers of the warning signs of online tax-filing scams.

WPTV asked people around West Palm Beach on Tuesday if they file their taxes online or in-person.

"I certainly feel safer doing it (in person)," one woman said.

“I file online," another woman said. "It's easier for me."

"I prefer doing it online because it's quicker," one man said.

tip jar with pennies in them from 'online' and 'in person' tax filings
The pennies in these jars demonstrate how many people who spoke with WPTV file their taxes online or in person.

Last year, according to Aura, a consumer cybersecurity company, 92% of tax returns were filed online and the IRS identified $5.7 billion in tax fraud.

"We spend all this time and effort protecting our physical homes and our physical dwellings, and yet our digital homes are full of trap doors," Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura, said.

Ramzan told WPTV the first step is to know what the Internal Revenue Service will and won't do.

"The IRS will never contact you out of the blue via email or social media or phone, etc.," Ramzan said. "That's already a red flag."

He told WPTV the IRS will always contact you through a more formal type of communication, like a letter sent in the mail.

"In a digital world, my information, my identity, is my Social Security number," Ramzan said. "It's my date of birth. It's my address."

Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura, speaks to Jessica Bruno
WPTV consumer investigative reporter Jessica Bruno speaks with Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura, about online tax scams.

That's why Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody sent out a warning Tuesday.

"In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million reports of identity theft and the FTC reports that tax-filing season is the most common time for this crime," Moody said.

Moody recommends the following tips to avoid tax identity theft:

  • File taxes early so a scammer can't file using stolen information.
  • Apply for an electronic filing personal identification number with the IRS for increased safety.
  • Never use the same passwords across multiple websites or applications.
  • Limit the number of companies that receive personal information.
  • Avoid filing taxes in public.
  • Take sensitive outgoing mail to a post office location rather than placing in a home mailbox.
  • Protect an electronic device with firewalls and anti-virus software and keep up to date with security patches and updates.

Anyone who falls victim to tax identity theft should complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, and attach it to the year's tax return.

Taxpayers should also check credit reports regularly to ensure that there are no fraudulent accounts opened with stolen information.