The Reynolds Center Horizontal Logo In Color

Two Minute Tips

Three ways to spot a tax-related scam

April 1, 2019

Share this article:

Identity theft is a growing problem for parents looking to protect their children. Here’s how you can cover this important topic. (Photo via Pexels)

For a timely story relating to data breaches, focus your reporting on tax-related scams, which increasingly threaten consumers’ financial security.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued a “dirty dozen” list of tax-related scams, which have been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years as social media continues to expand its reach. After a three-year decline, tax-related scams grew 60% in 2018. Topping the list are “phishing” or phony email schemes that lead recipients to download malware or viruses that steal their personal information, phone scams, tax-related identity theft, and tax-preparer fraud.

The tax season doesn’t end until April 15, so there’s still plenty of time for thieves to steal information. Make this story a priority this week by developing one or more of the following angles to help prevent readers from becoming a tax-related scam statistic:

“Phishing” for Information

How do cybercriminals steal money, bank account information, passwords, credit cards or Social Security numbers? Simple—they ask for them by posing as a trustworthy organization; in this case, as the IRS or as a tax-preparation service. Information such as “IRS Important Notice,” “IRS Taxpayer Notice,” and other such language in the subject line of an email prompts a user to click on the message. Another trick is using the name of a business colleague, a friend or a family member.

In the blink of an eye—or click of the mouse—the email has pulled the user to a fake site that steals their personal information. Another way to spot a phony email: misspelling and bad grammar. Report this story in a Q-and-A format, choosing readers of different ages, educations, and economic brackets. Have a step-by-step video or infographic accompany this story.

Impersonating an IRS Agent 

IRS representatives don’t call on the phone, and, except in special circumstances, don’t visit a home or a business without sending letters in advance. They also don’t ask for information by email, text message, or social media channels. They also don’t threaten lawsuits or arrest or demand payment on the spot. The federal agency contacts taxpayers the good old-fashioned way: through the U.S. postal service. Vulnerable readers, such as immigrants and the elderly, may not know the facts. To get the point across, report this story, too, in a video or infographic.

The Best Defense: A Good Security Offense

Smart security strategies that protect and check information are vital. These include: security software to protect against malware and viruses found in phishing emails; strong passwords for each account, with a minimum of 10 digits, including letters, numbers and special characters; and authentication requiring a security code in addition to username and password.

One growing tax-related scam compromises an individual’s identity by stealing their Social Security number, which can be undetected for months because the IRS doesn’t match an employee’s W-2 information with an employer’s records until later in the year. Good sources to interview include Javelin Research and the Identity Theft Resource Center. Get ahold of Javelin 2019 report, due out in early February, and you just may break some news.


  • Dorianne Perrucci

    Since 2001, Dorianne's freelance bylines have appeared in leading print and digital news outlets, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger and NJ Biz. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Do...

    View all posts

More Like This...

City scape view of multiple glass buildings

How financial institutions are using AI tools

Business journalists can find plenty of stories by exploring the transformative impact of artificial intelligence (AI) tools on the financial sector. AI is playing a

The business of cryptocurrencies

From its involvement in recent cyber attacks against global corporations to its passing of $60,000 in value in April 2021, bitcoin is becoming a focal

Two Minute Tips

Sign up now.
Get one Tuesday.

Every Tuesday we send out a quick-read email with tips for business journalism.

Subscribers also get access to the Tip archive.


Get Two Minute Tips For Business Journalism Delivered To Your Email Every Tuesday

Two Minute Tips

Every Tuesday we send out a quick-read email with tips for business journalism. Sign up now and get one Tuesday.