By Stephanie Humphrey
Tax season is quickly coming to a close, and if you’re like me and haven’t finished your taxes yet, these tech tips won’t stop you from procrastinating, but hopefully will help you get them done safely and more easily.
The first tech tip I would highly recommend is to use the resources that are already widely available – most notably the official IRS website, www.irs.gov. It is way too easy to go down a rabbit hole of research looking for answers to your tax questions online, and it is even easier to find websites intended to scam you or provide misinformation that can derail your tax prep process. In just a quick scroll of the IRS homepage, I was able to find out that the filing deadline has been extended, click a link to see what options were available to file my taxes for free, and watch a video to learn how to avoid making errors on my tax return. The IRS website used to have a reputation for being notoriously hard to navigate (kind of like the tax code itself), but I have found this updated site to be simple to use and understand. So, if you are completing your taxes yourself and have questions, your best bet for information is to go straight to the source.
Avoiding public wi-fi is the second tech tip you should consider when filing your taxes online. This may not be feasible for everyone, but if you can avoid it, the library or coffee shop is not the best place to use software that requires your social security number and other sensitive personal information. This is also not the time to reuse old passwords either. Security should be your top priority when completing your online filing. However, a bigger threat to your online filing will more likely be someone that you invite in as opposed to someone who hacks their way in. Phishing scams use email and smishing scams use text messaging to try to trick you into handing over your personal information. Here are some key signs that you might be the victim of a scam:
No mail correspondence: It is highly unlikely that the IRS will try to contact you via email or text message before they have attempted to reach you via regular mail. If you have not received something in writing from the postal service first, anything sent electronically is probably a scam. It is also highly unlikely for the IRS to use text messaging at all unless you have previously signed up for text alerts, and they will never contact you through any social media platform.
Requested method of payment: Beware of phone calls or emails requesting payment through prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. Those payment methods are largely untraceable and usually a sign that you’re being scammed. The IRS website has clear information on the different payment options they offer. Some of those options do include wire transfers and debit cards, but it is still best to use the official site instructions. Official IRS agents will also never take credit/debit card info over the phone, either.
Urgency/threats: Scammers rely on fear to cheat people, so look out for a strong sense of urgency in emails, phone calls, or text messages. Threats of prosecution or jail time are also a giveaway as well. Even if you do have tax debt, it takes a fair amount of back and forth correspondence and repeated written requests from the IRS before any legal proceedings would take place. In other words, you would have to have ignored them for a while before you would be sent a threat of legal action.
What to do: If you think you have been the victim of a scam, you can always hang up the phone and call the IRS directly at: 1-800-829-1040. Never reply to an email with personal information, and it’s good practice to report the message to your email provider as a phishing scam. You can also visit the TIGTA website (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) to learn about new scams or report a scam at: www.treasury.gov/tigta/.
While technology makes it easier for us to get information and file our taxes, it can also make it easier for unscrupulous types to scam us as well. It is up to us to be vigilant – if something doesn’t seem right or just doesn’t make sense to you, don’t panic! Take your time to make a call or visit the official website of the IRS or your tax preparer to get the information you need. Happy filing!
Stephanie Humphrey is a former engineer turned tech-life expert and author. She is a contributor to “Good Morning America” and Fox 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia.” You can find Stephanie all around the web at: @TechLifeSteph and get her book “Don’t Let Your Digital Footprint Kick You in the Butt!” on Amazon.