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Better Business Bureau warns of scams as the tax season opens

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — With tax season starting, the Better Business Bureau is alerting taxpayers to con artist schemes that threaten to take money, personal identity information, and peace of mind.

This year's filing deadline is Tuesday, April 18.

“No matter how you get your taxes done, you could encounter a scam attempt,” says Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the BBB.

“As the 2023 tax season opens, tax scammers come out of the woodwork. These cons come up with creative methods to entice busy consumers to fall for their tricks. They utilize imposter phone calls, texts, emails, and even phony letters to capitalize on the fears and emotions when filing taxes.”

Tax Identity Theft

This con happens when a scammer uses a person's social security number to file a tax return in the person's name and collect their refund.

Through a phony tax preparation service, data break, hack, or phishing scam, people are tricked into clicking on a link which downloads malware to your device. 

This is how scammers steal your tax information.

Unfortunately, victims of this kind of tax identity theft don't realize they've been targeted until they go to file their taxes. 

In the mail, the victim will receive a written notice from the IRS saying more than one tax return was filed, or that they were paid by an unknown employer.

Email Phishing Scams

These emails look like they're from the IRS and even go so far as to include a link to a fake website that looks almost identical to the official IRS website.

The emails direct a person to update their IRS e-file immediately or alert a person to a so-called "problem" with their taxes.

Scammers hope that by capitalizing on tax stressors, they will get you to call the fake number in an email or click on a link that installs malware on your device.

IRS Impersonation Scams

Most of these scams start with a phone call, but are carried out in two different ways. 

In one way, the scammer pretends to be an "IRS Agent" and informs a person that they owe back taxes.

To pay these, the scammer threatens you with arrest and fines if you don't pay by prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

In the second way, the con artist will tell a person that they are giving out tax refunds.

The scammer will ask for personal information in order to "send" the refund.

To seem more legitimate on the call, the scammer might give a fake badge number and name.

In addition, the person's Caller ID may display information that looks like the call is coming from Washington D.C.

"Ghost" Shady Tax Preparers

These con artists set up shop around tax time, often in vacant storefronts.

To entice tax filers, they will often promise fast or large refunds.

These "ghost" tax preparers are uncertified and bypass checks and balances in the tax preparer certification system. 

In addition, the big promoted refunds are not calculated in legal ways.

Ghost tax preparers will ask the taxpayer to sign their own return to make it look like it was self-filed.

When something goes wrong, the taxpayer will try to take the return back to the preparer and find that the shop is nowhere to be found.

BBB Tax Time Tips:

  1. File your taxes as early as possible before a scammer has the chance to steal your information.
  2. Always check out a new tax preparer before you do business with them. Read reviews, customer comments, and look on for reviews.
  3. Make sure you access the actual IRS website when filing your taxes electronically. 
  4. When in doubt, contact the IRS directly to verify any contact. Do not do this through a number in an email or text. 
  5. The IRS will never threaten you or demand immediate payment. 
  6. Be wary of a tax preparer offering fast refunds or large refunds. What you owe is based on current tax laws and your past year's tax information.
  7. Only allow funds to be deposited into your own accounts. Be wary of ghost tax preparers that will have funds deposited into their own accounts to be "later distributed."
  8. Review your tax return before submitting to make sure your tax preparer has signed it.
  9. Avoid tax preparers who offer "refund anticipation loans." You'll likely lose a large portion of your return to commissions.
  10. Think about a tax preparer's availability. Can you contact them all year long or only during tax season?
  11. Contact the IRS immediately if the following are received in your mailbox:
    • Written notice from the IRS about a duplicate tax return
    • Notice stating that you received wages from a company you never worked for
    • Notice that "additional taxes are owed, the refund will be offset, or a collection action is being taken against you."
  12. Protect your Social Security by only giving it to people you trust.

The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) promised an enhanced MyTax Illinois system that enables taxpayer to file returns with or without an account, operating with a simple question-and-answer format. 

IDOR stopped over $62 million in fraudulent refunds from being issued last year.

If a taxpayer files electronically and there are no errors, they can expect to receive a direct deposit refund in about four weeks. 

To check the status of a refund, visit the Illinois Department of Revenue's site.

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