SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today reminded consumers that due to the COVID-19 pandemic the filing deadline for both state and federal taxes has been extended to July 15, 2020, and provided tips on filing and preparing taxes safely and preventing tax-related identity theft. Each year, millions of California taxpayers file their taxes and many look forward to receiving tax refunds. Unfortunately, tax season also attracts scammers who prey on individuals who may need help filing their taxes. This alert provides Californians with resources to find reputable tax help and avoid tax-season scams.
“Hardworking Californians should not have to worry about identity theft or any scams at tax filing time, especially while confronting the new reality of COVID-19,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our website offers consumers information to help make filing taxes safer and easier. I encourage all Californians to take the time to review these and the other tips and resources available on our consumer web page at oag.ca.gov/consumers.”
Tax Fraud Scams
Tax-related scams take on various forms and show up every year, especially around tax season. The most common tax-related scams include:
- Fake IRS Phone Calls Demanding Money — Scammers call consumers claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) and demand the consumer pay them money. The scammers will often use harassment and high-pressure tactics, threatening the consumer with arrest, deportation, or the loss of the consumer’s driver license if they do not receive payment, often by money wire or prepaid debit cards. The scammer may even know information such as the consumer’s Social Security number or fake the caller ID to make it appear as though the call is coming from the IRS, FTB, police, or the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Fake IRS Emails — Scammers send out “phishing” emails that look like they are from the IRS or FTB and claim that consumers either owe money or are due a refund. They will include links to official-looking web sites and ask for money or personal information that will allow the scammers to steal the taxpayers’ identities.
- Stolen Refunds — Identity thieves use stolen personal information to file false tax returns under someone else’s name to steal refunds. Scammers usually file early in the tax season and consumers may not learn that about the theft until they try to file their taxes.
How to Protect Yourself from Tax Fraud Scams
Attorney General Becerra offers many tips for consumers to protect themselves from tax fraud scams including:
- Stay ahead of scammers and file early – You are less vulnerable to scammers if you file early and have your refund in hand. Avoid putting yourself at risk of being the next victim and file your taxes as early as possible.
- Hang up the phone! — While in some cases the IRS or FTB may call a person who owes taxes, the agencies only do so after having tried to contact the consumer by mail. They do not threaten jail time or seek payment over the phone or through a wire transfer. Consumers should not make any payments, and should contact the agency directly by looking up government contact information online. Calls impersonating the IRS should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Those impersonating the FTB should be reported here.
- Do NOT open the email — Never open an email or text message that says it is from the IRS or the FTB. The IRS and FTB will not use email, text message, or social media as the first way of getting in touch to request personal or financial information or to send notice regarding audits or refunds. Replying to the email, opening attachments, or clicking on links may enable scammers to collect personal information or infect a computer with viruses or other malware. Phishing emails should be reported to the IRS at email@example.com and to the FTB using their online referral page.
- Use a strong password — When preparing a tax return for electronic filing, consumers should use a unique strong password for each online filing account. A strong password is eight or more characters, including letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Think beyond the password — For greater security, consumers can request an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) for e-filing with the IRS. A new IP PIN is provided each year by the IRS.
- Use two-step authentication — Consumers should check on the availability of two-step authentication to protect tax filing accounts (and other online accounts containing sensitive information, such as your email and social media accounts). Two-step authentication offers stronger protection than just a password and username. The process, also called login approval or multi-factor authentication, requires a second factor, such as a one-time use code that is sent to the consumer by email, phone, or text, to access the account.
- Report Scams — Attorney General Becerra encourages anyone who believes they have been a victim of tax identity theft to immediately contact their local law enforcement, the IRS, and the FTB. Consumers can also report suspected tax scams to the Office of the Attorney General using our online complaint form at oag.ca.gov/report.
Many consumers use services to prepare tax returns. Attorney General Becerra urges consumers to find out whether they qualify for free tax help, and to use resources to check that their tax preparer is reputable and qualified to provide the service.
- IRS Free File — The IRS’ Free File program is available to those whose adjusted gross income was $69,000 or less. If you fall into this category, you may find one or more Free File Online options for you through this program. To see if you qualify for this program, check here.
- FTB CalFile — The FTB’s CalFile program allows qualified individuals to quickly e-file their state tax return directly to the FTB, free of charge. To see if you qualify, check here.
- Find a reputable tax preparer — In California, anyone who prepares tax returns for a fee must be an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), an IRS-enrolled agent, or registered with the state as a tax preparer. To confirm whether a tax preparer is registered with the IRS, check here.
- Complaints against tax preparers — Complaints may be filed with the IRS here.
You can find more information on our tax preparation resources webpage. For the latest on coronavirus preparedness, information, and response, please visit the COVID19.ca.gov. Additionally, please visit the websites of the California Department of Public Health, Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, and Office of Emergency Services. If you are a worker or employer who has been affected by COVID-19, you can find guidance and resources on the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s website.