Top 3 Tax Scams and How to Spot Them

Top 3 Tax Scams

The window to file your federal tax return may be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean that criminals are slowing down. Every year thousands of people fall victim to one of the “Dirty Dozen” scams in which criminals pose as IRS representatives to con people out of money and personal identification information.

These scams can sound pretty convincing and possibly terrifying. That’s if you’re on the receiving end of one, but there are things about each one that just don’t add up. Read this guide on how to spot the most common tax scams before you give anyone your information.

Bonus: How Identity Theft Can Affect Your Tax Return

Phone Scams

The Scam

Phone scams top the list of methods criminals may use to illegally obtain your Social Security number, banking info, and more. Most often a person or group will pose as an IRS agent to tell people that they owe money in taxes and are late in making their payments. They may provide a fake IRS identification badge number, and will usually demand immediate payment of the amount in question. They may even threaten lawsuits, arrest, or deportation if their conditions are not met.

How to Spot It

The big giveaway for this scam is that the IRS never contacts people via the phone. If you do owe money to the IRS, you will be contacted via email. In some cases, this may lead to a scheduled, in-person meeting with an authorized agent. The IRS will also never demand payment without first giving you the chance to appeal the amount. They will not specify the payment method that you must use.

Here are more tips for spotting a tax scam over the phone.


The Scam

Phishing scams have made the list of most common tax scams for several years running. This scam usually involves a fake website or email claiming to be from a reputable organization such as your bank, a tax software company, or the IRS. These emails and websites often tell you that you owe money or that there was an issue filing your tax return, and ask for your Social Security number, password, bank account, or other personal information. In addition to stealing your money and identity with this information, criminals may use this scam to install malware on your computer, giving them access to even more info.

How to Spot It

While the IRS will sometimes contact people via email, such emails usually aren’t out of the blue. If you think you’ve received a suspicious email regarding your taxes or the IRS, you can report it by forwarding it to You can also report it here.

Return Preparer Fraud

The Scam

While the majority of tax return preparers are reputable, every year there are a few who run shady operations to scam their clients out of money and/or their identity. They may claim to produce larger tax refunds than their competition, offer to use your last pay stub instead of your W-2, or ask you to sign an incomplete (or even blank) return. They may even insist on filing a paper return, rather than using e-file.

How to Spot it

The easiest way to spot this scam is to check the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications (we know, it’s a mouthful). If the preparer is not in this directory, then the odds are very high that they are not a reputable or legitimate tax return preparer. You should also ask to see their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which all preparers are required by law to include on your return.

Bonus: 3 Signs of Identity Theft and What You Should Do

Click here to view all “Dirty Dozen” of the top tax scams identified by the IRS.

Do you ever wonder if a phone call, email, or website claiming to be the IRS is legitimate? Your accountant is a good place to start. CPAs must stay up to date with the latest IRS policies and procedures. They will be able to tell you if something is a scam.

Looking for a reputable accountant or tax preparer in Phoenix? Our team at Hacker Accounting would love to help. Give us a call today at 602-375-5251 to get started.

Chris Hacker
Chris has been working in the bookkeeping and accounting field for over 15 years preparing business, income and payroll taxes. Chris has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State and is an Enrolled Agent with the Internal Revenue Service.