Tax Scams You Need to Avoid in 2022

Happy New Year! With another year in the books, it’s time to look ahead at 2022 and the financial moves we’ve planned for ourselves. And it’s also time to look out for a new batch of tax scams.

There’s nothing that derails your financial goals like identity theft. Unfortunately, tax scammers are always on the hunt for their next mark. And plenty marks exist, since just about everyone ends up filing and paying taxes year in and year out.

We’re here to help. As a full-service tax representation firm entering our third decade of service, we don’t believe anyone should have to deal with tax problems. Frankly, we think too many people deal with tax issues to begin with. So if we can help you avoid the unnecessary ones stemming from unscrupulous actors, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

So we’re here with some of the most popular and noteworthy tax scams you should look out for in 2022. We’ve broken them down into two groups: common tax season scams, and year-round scams. We’ll describe each tax scam and explain how you can stop it in its tracks.

Then, we’ll offer some evergreen tax advice that will help you spot a tax scam from a mile away. Our plan is simple: We want you to leave this article confident and empowered to evade tax scammers and take 2022 in stride.

Tax Scams to Avoid During the 2022 Tax Season

Each year, the IRS spotlights tax scams making the rounds during tax season to help taxpayers avoid becoming victims. In many of these, scammers will take advantage of those seeking help or the tax filing process itself. Here are some of the biggest scams to look out for during the 2022 tax season.

1. “Ghost” Tax Return Preparers

What is a ghost tax return preparer? Simple: A ghost preparer doesn’t sign the returns they prepare. This can affect you as a taxpayer in a few different ways.

Ultimately, filing a thorough and accurate tax return is the taxpayer’s responsibility. However, tax preparers offer some sense of security to taxpayers that they’ll receive the biggest refund and avoid common tax filing mistakes. Tax preparers also must receive certification, a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which authorizes them to prepare federal tax returns—and sign them.

Not only is ghost tax preparation unethical, it’s also typically a sign of a tax scam. Ghost tax preparers will often make lofty claims about returns and may charge a high price for their services. However, the price tag may not come with quality, and once their work is done, you may find yourself up a creek without a paddle when the IRS audits your return.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to avoid falling victim to ghost tax preparers. First, you should always do your research before hiring a tax preparer or tax prep service. This includes checking out any online reviews you can find, as well as asking a few basic questions prior to trusting an individual with your financial info.

You should inquire about what their guarantees are after filing—do they commit to supporting you in case of an audit? Additionally, you should ask them for their PTIN so you can confirm their credentials with the IRS. Throughout this process, keep an eye out for lofty promises of thousands of dollars in tax refunds, which might be a signal of an unscrupulous tax preparer.

2. Email, Phishing, and Malware Tax Scams

Year after year, fraudsters lean on email to get their marks. Typically, these tax scams happen during tax season and will claim to be the IRS.

They may use the IRS name or logo, and they’ll ultimately attempt to get access to a consumer’s financial info one way or another. In other cases, scammers may attempt to trick taxpayers into thinking the email has come from their tax professional. In these cases, they may instead request life insurance or annuity updates—information the IRS does not require.

Others will request you to update your IRS e-file “immediately.” In most cases, these messages will provide links to malware. Once your computer becomes infected with malware, fraudsters can directly access your files or track your keystrokes to get your personal information.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

Remember: The IRS does not initiate contact via email or text message. Those are the first major red flags here. Another way you can avoid falling victim to this scam is to avoid clicking links or providing your personal information in response to these emails.

While the site on the other side of the link may appear legitimate, there’s a good chance it won’t be. Instead, you can visit IRS.gov directly, where you can confirm if they actually need any action or information.

3. Unemployment Benefits

Especially during the pandemic, millions of newly unemployed Americans found themselves applying for unemployment benefits. While the total unemployment numbers have stabilized since the highs of 2020 and 2021, you should still be wary of tax scams relating to your unemployment.

The summary: Unemployment benefits are taxable income, so those who receive these benefits will receive Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments. This form serves to report to the IRS the amount of taxable compensation received, as well as any withholding elected by the recipient.

Some tax scammers have sent fraudulent forms to people who didn’t receive unemployment income. Ultimately, these forms serve as a ploy to get taxpayer information and steal their identities.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

If you receive tax forms you don’t recognize, it’s best not to provide the sender with any personal information. Some may have simple explanations, like coming from a brokerage that owns the app you use for stock trading. However, others aren’t so easy to trace back. If you receive a 1099-G—but didn’t receive unemployment in 2021—don’t reply and don’t provide any of your information. Instead, you should follow the steps the IRS outlines on their website.

4. Tax Scams Targeting Late Filers

This tax scam looks and works a bit differently than the others we’ve described so far. In this scam, the swindler probably won’t reach out and try to secure your personal, private tax information. Instead, they may already have some of your tax information, and they’ll use it to get their hands on a hefty tax refund—at your expense.

The longer you wait to file your taxes, the larger the window a tax scammer may have to file a tax return fraudulently on your behalf. Typically, they’ll take some tax forms you’ve received in the mail, or any other identifying info you may have, and file your tax return for you. But of course, they’re not just filing out of the goodness of their hearts.

Instead, what they want is your tax return. And if you wait until the tax deadline, you may find out at the last minute that someone has filed your taxes—potentially leaving you at risk of an audit.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

While you can help prevent this tax scam by practicing good online security, you can go a step further. This should serve as yet another reason why you should always try to file your taxes as early as you can. Not only will you avoid major tax headaches and surprises, but you’ll give bad actors less of a chance to file your tax return and take your refund.

Tax Scams to Avoid Year-Round in 2022

While many tax scammers pick the tax season to prey on unsuspecting taxpayers, unscrupulous scammers don’t take time off. To help you stay vigilant throughout the year, here’s a short list of what to look out for.

1. Natural Disaster Scams

Following a major hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or winter storm, many generous taxpayers look for ways they can help victims, including with donations. Sadly, some unscrupulous tax scammers attempt to take advantage of this generosity, according to the IRS.

In some cases, these scams don’t have a direct relation to taxes. They may impersonate charities or use fake websites that appear similar or identical to those of real charities, in the hopes of trick people into “donating” their money or simply inputting their financial info, like credit card or banking info. Still others will reach out by telephone or email, claiming to be less recognizable charities and soliciting the same information.

However, other con artists will claim to work on behalf of the IRS to help victims with their taxes, whether accessing tax refunds or filing loss claims. The IRS does have multiple ways of supporting taxpayers who have experienced hardships due to natural disaster. But this support generally comes in the form of tax deadline extensions and tax relief. They do not outsource support to third parties.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

Before making donations of any kind, you should always double-check that the organization you plan to donate to is who they say they are. In particular, you should check to ensure they are a nonprofit.

While, yes, your donations are tax-deductible, we’re most concerned with keeping your information safe. You can perform a search of tax-exempt organizations here.

2. Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) Scams

As you may no, the IRS doesn’t make calls to alert you to issues or questions they may have about your taxes. However, there are IRS-related organizations that have also come under targeting by fraudsters. And you need to stay alert throughout tax season.

First, let’s discuss scams that relate to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS. This organization help protect your taxpayer rights. Their services range from general IRS issues to issues with making payments and even if you feel an IRS procedure isn’t working right. The TAS provides help to thousands of taxpayers per year, but they generally don’t make outgoing calls.

However, in this scam, thieves make unsolicited calls claiming to be from the IRS, requesting personal information like SSNs or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Or they may request personal info, claiming to need wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. And they may even be able to produce personally identifying information like the last four digits of your SSN.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

TAS-related scams serve as a pretty thorny issue for taxpayers, largely because they can seem so real. The group’s relation within the IRS, and even their ability to produce additional personal info, can make them appear more legitimate. However, it’s still a scam.

One tipoff to keep in mind is the fact they’re calling you. The TAS helps thousands of taxpayers per year, but generally they’re on the receiving end of calls. The IRS doesn’t make calls, remember? And if this taxpayer advocate is really there for you, would they be demanding payment or threatening you in any way? Unlikely. The best method here is to hang up and reach out to the IRS directly. If the TAS really needs something from you, they’ll send it to your mailbox.

3. Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) Scams

Next, let’s discuss schemes involving people posing as representatives of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP). TAP works as an advisory panel on behalf of taxpayers, helping to resolve taxpayer issues and drive change within the IRS. These issues range from efficiency problems to failures of various IRS systems and procedures. Ultimately, they exist to help improve taxpayer service. And of course, they’re a preferred choice for impersonation by tax scammers.

According to the IRS, some taxpayers have received emails purporting to come from TAP. They may include links, and they may request personal or financial information such as your SSN or banking info. However, TAP is a volunteer board; it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have access to your private personal information!

Putting a Stop to the Scam

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel shouldn’t have your private financial information. So if someone reaches out asking for it, that’s a sure sign of a tax scam. If you receive one of these emails, your first step is simple: Don’t click any links. This can install malware or have a number of negative outcomes. Instead, the IRS recommends you forward the email to phishing@irs.gov and note that you believe it’s a scam, phishing for your personal info.

4. OIC Mills

In the world of tax relief, not everyone is scrupulous. Especially if you plan to tackle your tax debt in 2022, you need to spot the red flags before hiring someone to help you get square with the IRS. One attractive method for debt relief involves the Offer-In-Compromise (OIC), which is a method of settling your tax debt for less than the full amount you owe. Unfortunately, while this tool is effective for combating your tax debt, some people are willing to use its “too good to be true” image to take advantage of people.

These mills, which often identify themselves as tax relief firms, will misconstrue how the OIC program works. They mislead individuals struggling with tax debt into thinking they’re nearly guaranteed to secure an OIC. In reality, not everyone qualifies. It all depends on an assessment of your ability to pay, income, expenses, and equity in your assets. Generally, these companies do little to no pre-qualification. Instead, they dangle the promise of the OIC in front of customers, charge them thousands of dollars, and then inform them the OIC doesn’t apply.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

While OIC mills aren’t a “scam” in the same way as others on the list, they are at best a waste of your time. OIC mills tend to result in thousands of dollars more in debt—not less. Fortunately, you have some simple ways of avoiding them. First, visit the IRS’s website to understand the eligibility requirements. You may find out you don’t qualify for an OIC right then and there.

Next, if you’re on the phone with a tax relief company, be sure to listen for—and ask follow-up questions about—any guarantees they make. A good tax relief company can’t promise you anything without understanding your tax situation. So if they’re promising you’ll qualify for an OIC without knowing anything more than your tax debt total, be careful.

5. Immigrant & Senior Fraud

Although this scam has dwindled in popularity in recent years, it’s worth noting that people may take advantage of the elderly, as well as those whose first language is not English. Generally, these scammers will impersonate the IRS to call taxpayers and threaten deportation, jail time, or to revoke their IDs.

These calls represent a major threat to those who may be financially disadvantaged, as they also tend to target people who may have more limited access to information. These scammers may demand wire transfers, financial information such as bank account info, and more.

Putting a Stop to the Scam

If you or someone you know has received one of these calls, the first thing you should do is remember that the IRS doesn’t generally reach out by phone. Taxes can be scary, but the scare tactics employed in this scam are a sure sign you’re not speaking with the IRS.

Fortunately, you can simply ignore these calls. Or if you have the ability on your phone, marking them as scams or blocking the numbers should be an effective solution, as well.

Evergreen Tax Safety Tips

Before we get into the specifics of some of the tax scams you should note and avoid in 2022, we want to cover a few of the evergreen basics. These specific security tips don’t just have relevance in 2022; they’re relevant year round.

As the IRS explains on its website, the organization will not initiate contact with taxpayers to request personal information. Generally, they only reach out via the mail (or in person, on occasion), and will provide you with options for contacting them.

More explicitly:

The IRS Doesn’t Call: A number of the tactics we’ve explained above fall under this umbrella. But the IRS will not call you to tell you there’s an issue with your tax return, and they certainly won’t call you to resolve an issue on the phone that might require your personal information.

The IRS Doesn’t Email: Beware of any email claiming to originate from the IRS, because the IRS doesn’t send these emails in an attempt to resolve or alert you to tax issues. The IRS may send email confirmations if you’ve already logged in and handled business on their site, but don’t respond to any email claiming to be from the IRS. And don’t click on any link or file, as these may contain links to malware.

The IRS Doesn’t Tweet: The IRS also doesn’t take to social media to resolve issues with taxpayers. So if an account sends you a message and claims to be the IRS—or associated with the IRS—that’s a big red flag.

The Importance of Reporting Tax Scams When You See Them

Avoiding these tax scams can be as easy as hanging up the phone, throwing out a suspicious piece of mail, or deleting an email.

However, you won’t end up the only person targeted by any of these tax scams. Scammers typically throw out a wide net, targeting hundreds or even thousands of taxpayers. In the end, tricking just one person into giving out their personal information could be worth thousands of dollars!

So, while you can simply avoid these tax scams when you see them, we suggest you go a step further to help your fellow taxpayer. Reach out to the IRS, report that email as a phishing attempt, and help ensure these tax scammers are found out, shut down, or caught before they can trick someone who didn’t read this article into giving up their banking information.

Most of the time, taxes are a pretty individual endeavor. But when it comes to preventing tax scams, there’s power in numbers.

Avoiding Tax Scams—and Staying Safe in 2022

Hopefully, you’re feeling confident that you can keep your money and identity safe in 2022. It takes vigilance, information, and an eye for suspicious communication. But with care, you can avoid the worst tax scams out there in 2022 and ensure nobody takes advantage of you and your family.

For any other tax issues, get in touch. Our expert tax team can help you navigate the authentic communications you receive from the IRS, respond on your behalf, and help you get out of tax troubles of any kind. And that’s the kind of security we all deserve.

If you want to get back on track with the IRS in 2022, you can get started today. Just reach out via our free live chat—and one of our tax experts will help you get started.

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