HARRISBURG — With tax filing season underway, the Department of Revenue is urging Pennsylvanians to file their tax returns as soon as they can. Filing your returns early is one way that helps taxpayers protect themselves against identity thieves and tax refund fraud.
“Tax filing season is prime time for criminals to target Pennsylvanians with schemes that are designed to steal their personal information,” Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said. “We want Pennsylvanians to be aware of these fraudulent tactics so they can take steps to protect themselves. It’s important to know the warning signs so that you won’t become a victim of these scams.”
Filing fraudulent tax returns to steal refunds
Tax refund fraud often starts when cyber criminals steal personal identifiable information from a taxpayer, or a tax professional hired to prepare a client’s tax returns. These scams may involve threatening phone calls, deceptive letters sent through the mail and realistic looking phishing emails or texts. Sometimes these fraudulent messages focus on the recipient’s tax returns and refunds.
Phishing schemes are designed to make it appear that the email or text message is coming from a trusted source, such as a government agency. The messages are often set up to use malicious software to steal sensitive information, such as passwords, usernames or personal financial information, such as a Social Security number.
Once the criminals have their hands on the stolen information, they have been known to file a fraudulent tax return in the name of victims whose data was stolen. The criminal will request a tax refund as part of filing the fraudulent return, and then will take steps to divert the refund to a bank account they control.
Tips to avoid scams
The Department of Revenue is encouraging Pennsylvanians to keep the following tips in mind to safeguard against these deceptive scams:
Approach unusual attachments and links with caution: Links to a website or attachments to an email could contain malware that allows criminals to track the recipient’s keystrokes. That’s one way they can obtain passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or other sensitive information.
Look for imposters: Many times, criminals will pose as a government entity or an official business. If you suspect you are being targeted by a scam artist through the mail, phone or email, do not provide personal information or money until you are sure you are speaking to a legitimate representative. You should check the source’s official website and use the contact information there to ensure you are speaking to the appropriate authority.
Protect your accounts by using multi-factor authentication (MFA): Some accounts and services offer extra security by requiring two or more credentials to log in to your account. Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username and password.
Don’t fall for high-pressured tactics: Criminals responsible for these scams have been known to use high-pressured tactics, including threatening taxpayers with criminal charges if they don’t comply with their requests for their information. Many scams have also involved criminals threatening the taxpayer with an arrest warrant or the “blacklisting” of their Social Security number.
Use myPATH to file your state tax return
The Department of Revenue is encouraging taxpayers to electronically file their Pennsylvania personal income tax returns with the department’s state-only filing system available at mypath.pa.gov.
myPATH is a free, user-friendly option that allows most taxpayers to seamlessly file the Pennsylvania Income Tax Return (PA-40) and make income tax payments, as well as offering other services. The deadline to submit 2021 personal income tax returns is Monday, April 18, 2022.
Steps to follow if you are a victim of a scam
The Department of Revenue reminds taxpayers that it has a Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft and combating tax refund fraud.
If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, please contact the Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit by emailing [email protected].
For more information on ways to protect yourself, visit Revenue’s Identity Theft Victim Assistance webpage. You can also find further information about protecting yourself online at PA.gov/Cybersecurity.