Top 5 Online Scams to Avoid This 2011 Tax Season

Dennis Faas's picture

The last day to file your taxes in the U.S. is not until April 18, but hackers and online scumbags have long been preparing for the date. A number of new scams have since surfaced online, promising tax credits and other incentives for charitable donations.

Online Tax Filing Up 6 Percent Since 2010

Almost 19 million people have already filed their taxes at home this year, which is up 6 per cent compared to 2010.

For many, this will be their first time tackling the ominous task via the Internet and without the assistance of an accountant. Hackers realize that this is the time when taxpayers submit personal information online, as well as storing sensitive financial data on hard drives; thus, online scam campaigns are plentiful this time of year in hopes of slurping as much financial information as possible.

Bogus Websites offer Tax Credit for Disaster Relief

The most prominent scam surrounds the latest natural disasters in Japan.

A number of bogus email messages have popped up in recent weeks, promising a tax credit if you make a charitable donation to the earthquake relief effort. The ruse is based on actual law enacted last year, regarding the atrocities in Haiti

Back in January 2010, the United States Congress passed the Haiti Income Tax Incentive Act that allowed taxpayers to contribute to the Haiti relief effort from January 11 to March 1, 2010 and claim it on their 2009 tax return. (Source:

Fake IRS Websites Steal Financial Info

The second method has become a staple come tax time. Hackers establish websites that appear as official IRS sites or legitimate tax preparation services. Other online destinations entice people to download PDF files laden with malware. Also, notorious "drive-by downloads" are infamous in looking for browser exploits and implementing malware that tracks a victim's every move.

Search Engine Spam Traps Users into Clicking Spurious Links

Another longstanding trick is referred to as "Black Hat SEO" or Search Engine Optimization.

Here, hackers use such resources as Google Trends and Google Insights to see the most popular kinds of tax-related searches people are requesting and then optimize their virus-laden sites to intercept the searching party. Always be careful what you click on in a search engine and make sure your antivirus and Windows updates are up to date.

Likejacking Spurs Bogus Tax-Themed Post

Finally, one of the newest scams on the Internet is associated with the popular social network Facebook.

Likejacking, the act of tricking someone into clicking on a link and then approving the link (which is then shared with friends on their Facebook pages) is becoming a popular option for those online scumbags. Once a nefarious website is "liked", an automated message is generated on the Facebook wall which states "I just got $500 by using this free tax preparation service." (Source:

Bogus IRS Email 'Alerts' and Virus-Laden File Attachments

In response to all of these hoaxes, the IRS has intervened and offered several key warnings to keep taxpayers safe this coming season. The IRS emphasizes that it never asks taxpayers for their passwords, PIN numbers or other confidential data relating to bank accounts. Also, the IRS never initiates taxpayer communication through email.

You can report any dubious email messages claiming to be from the IRS by sending the message to the IRS security team at the following email address:

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