Home Featured The taxing truth: A state-by-state analysis of tax-time trickery

The taxing truth: A state-by-state analysis of tax-time trickery

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The taxing truth: A state-by-state analysis of tax-time trickery
5 The taxing truth A state by state analysis of tax time trickery


We are less than a week away from the tax deadline, and McAfee is out with new data on tax season that can help ensure you stay safe this tax season. 

With tax return scams on the rise, rushing to get your taxes done before the deadline can be one of the ways you are more vulnerable to becoming a victim of one of these scams.

So, how can you strike the balance of utilizing tax filing software to support you in getting those taxes on time while ensuring you’re protecting yourself from the various tax scams that are out there?

Steve Grobman, senior vice president and chief technology officer at McAfee, a cybersecurity company, advises that filing your taxes on time is a key step in avoiding tax scams.

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woman doing taxes

Woman stressed out while doing her taxes (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

What are the most common tax scams?

Tax scams have become more sophisticated over the last few years, but they are in no way new. However, with AI becoming more commonplace, scammers can utilize this technology to expedite their malicious scams. These scams can come in many different forms, but some of the most common ones are:

Phone scams: Scammers impersonate IRS officials to solicit back payments or personal information over the phone, using threats of arrest or fines to pressure immediate compliance. They may use fake badge numbers, caller IDs or robocalls enhanced with AI voice-overs.

Phishing email scams: Scammers commit fraud by sending emails or messages pretending to be from tax authorities or reputable tax software companies. They entice recipients to click on links that lead to fake websites designed to steal personal and financial information or directly request sensitive data under the guise of tax filing or refunds.

Tax-related identity theft: This occurs when identity thieves use stolen personal information to file fraudulent tax returns. Signs of such theft include receiving a letter from the IRS about a tax return already filed in your name, an electronic filing rejection because a return has already been filed using your Social Security Number, or a notification about the creation of a new online IRS account you did not initiate.

SCAM image

The word SCAM over data (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: DON’T FALL FOR THESE SNEAKY TAX SCAMS THAT ARE OUT TO STEAL YOUR IDENTITY AND MONEY

What you need to know about tax filing software

Today’s tax landscape is dominated by online engagement, with nearly nine out of 10 (89%) individuals turning to online platforms for at least one part of the tax filing process. More than half of consumers (54%) struggle to differentiate between scams and legitimate messages. In February alone, cybersecurity firm McAfee blocked more than one million attempts to engage with malicious, tax-related URLS.

Steve says, “With less than a week left until Tax Day, early filers are awaiting refunds and tax procrastinators are likely feeling the pressure and stress of the deadline. Scammers exploit these heightened emotions by offering easy filing, faster refunds or urgent information requests, so it’s not surprising that Americans report an average of $8,199 per person lost to tax-related email and text message scams.”

“We encourage people to maintain healthy skepticism, pause before sharing sensitive information online, and to use the right tools to protect their privacy, identity and personal information during tax season and beyond.”

Fraud image

Fraud written on a tablet (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

How scam attempts and detection look in different states

According to Steve, “Our recent tax scam survey uncovered notable disparities in scam susceptibility. Residents of some states – particularly Texas, New York, California, Alaska and Arkansas – have a much higher rate of receiving fraudulent tax refund messages than others.”

“These messages often contain malicious links or malware, increasing vulnerability to scams, so we encourage people to be extra alert and use AI-powered online identity and information protection measures to safeguard themselves against potential scams.”

Here’s some more information by state:

Texas: Despite being highly confident in spotting tax-related scams, Texas has a significant percentage (66%) of people who have lost money to online tax scams, indicating a gap between confidence and reality.

New York: While New Yorkers are confident in identifying tax-related scams, 70% have received messages purporting to be from tax authorities, and 80% have received requests for personal information, suggesting a significant issue with scam attempts.

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West Virginia: Although West Virginia has a high confidence level in spotting fake tax preparation services, 88% of its residents are likely to click on links from supposed tax software companies, indicating vulnerability to scams.

Kansas: Despite being less likely to click on links from purported tax preparation software companies, Kansas has a relatively high percentage (88%) of people who wouldn’t recognize a scam message from the IRS or state tax authority, suggesting a need for awareness and education on tax scams.

Tennessee: 100% of Tennessean respondents who clicked on links from supposed tax software companies lost money, and all respondents who received messages about tax refunds clicked on those links, highlighting a vulnerability to scam messages in the state.

WOMAN prepares taxes

Woman preparing taxes (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: HOW SCAMMERS ARE USING AI TOOLS TO FILE PERFECT-LOOKING TAX RETURNS IN YOUR NAME

How to protect yourself from tax-related identity theft

There are several ways you can protect yourself from tax-related identity theft:

Smart Selection: Utilize tax software to get your taxes done faster and on time, but be sure to research and check the reviews.

IRS Impersonation Alert: The IRS will NEVER call you and ask you to make any sort of payment over the phone.

Secure Your Identity: Request an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS. This will help to ensure your account is protected going forward and make it less likely that someone can file a fake tax return in your name.

Early Bird Advantage: In the future, try to file your taxes as early as you can. By doing this, you’re essentially beating the scammer to it. Once you file the return, they will be unable to commit fraud by filing a return in your name.

Beware of Phishing: Don’t click on suspicious links, even if you recognize the name of the tax software company. The best way to protect yourself from clicking malicious links that install malware that may get access to your private information is to have antivirus protection installed on all your devices. 

This can also alert you of any phishing emails or ransomware scams. Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

Steve adds, “The rise of AI-generated tax scams has made it incredibly challenging for Americans to tell the difference between real and fake communications. Cybercrooks can now easily create malicious robocalls that sound like they could come from a neighbor and send error-free text and email messages.”

With 1 in 4 Americans losing money to online tax scams, it’s crucial for consumers to stay informed about the latest scams, exercise skepticism when something seems too good to be true, and utilize AI-powered tools to protect their privacy, identity and personal information.”

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What to do if you’re a victim of a tax scam?

The hope is that by being aware of the different tax scams that are out there – especially when the deadline for filing your taxes is right around the corner – you’ll be less likely to become a victim of one. That being said, we know that these scammers are pretty clever. So, if you do find that you’ve been a victim of a scam, follow these steps:

1. Complete IRS Form 14039, the Identity Theft Affidavit. This is the form that all victims of fraud must fill out for the IRS. It will let them know that the person claiming to be you is a fraud. You can find the form on the IRS website.

2. Request a copy of the fraudulent tax return from the IRS: You can do this by going to this page on the IRS website on dealing with fraudulent returns and following the instructions to order a copy.

3. Alert national credit bureaus: Let the national bureaus, such as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, know that there has been fraud and freeze your account so that the scammers cannot access it.

4. Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission: The FTC is there to help track down scammers, and your report can also help them record how many scams are happening in a single year to improve better how to warn others. You should also report the crime to identitytheft.gov/.

5. Check your online bank accounts: Make sure there aren’t any suspicious transactions on any of your accounts.

6. Use an identity theft protection service: As tax season approaches, the risk of tax fraud significantly increases. It’s crucial to be vigilant and proactive in protecting your personal information. One effective measure is to enlist the help of an identity theft protection service. 

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Identity theft companies can monitor personal information like your Social Security Number, phone number and email address and alert you if it is being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals.

One of the best parts of using an identity theft protection service is that it might include identity theft insurance of up to $1 million to cover losses and legal fees and a white-glove fraud resolution team where a U.S.-based case manager helps you recover any losses. See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

TAX FORM

A Post-it on tax documents (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: DON’T CLICK THAT LINK! HOW TO SPOT AND PREVENT PHISHING ATTACKS IN YOUR INBOX

Kurt’s key takeaways

Taxes are a necessary evil that we have to do every year. Because it can be complicated, many people resort to software to help get the job done. Whatever route you take, be on the lookout for suspicious links from these software companies and any strange messages or phone calls claiming to be from the IRS – and claim your IRS Identity Protection PIN ASAP.

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