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Scammers are everywhere these days it seems, particularly during tax filing season. In fact, last year the IRS received 294,138 complaints of reported identity theft, the second most in history. Close family members of mine were hit. It was a scary and intrusive experience for them, and now they have to take additional steps when processing their taxes.

Even though it’s frighteningly prevalent, you can avoid becoming a victim. Here are some of the most important ways to protect yourself:

File early.

Many people don’t find out that their identity’s been stolen until they go to file their tax return and realize someone has already done so in their name. Scammers are opportunistic. Beat them to it by filing as early as possible.

Stay safe online.

When you go to file, be sure to use a secure portal and private internet connection. Also use a computer that is up to date with security patches and malware detection. Try to send sensitive information securely, via a secure document sharing service or a secure email portal. If you must email sensitive data, delete it from your files immediately after, even if it’s encrypted. Clean your digital footprint as often as possible to protect yourself in case your email account is hacked in the future.

Choose a trustworthy tax preparer.

Most tax preparers are professionals. However, there are disreputable ones. Watch for signs like refusing to sign your tax return as the paid preparer, failing to include their Preparer Tax Identification Number on your return, or charging a fee based on the size of the refund.

Beware of fake IRS communication.

Every spring there is a rise in incidents involving people who pretend to work for the IRS or other government agencies. We call them “bad actors.” They may call or email and try to convince you that you’re owed a refund or that something was wrong with your tax filing. As a

policy, the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text, or social media to ask for personal or financial information. They mostly communicate through regular postal mail. The IRS will never demand immediate payment with threats to involve law enforcement, ask for payment by wire transfer, or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. If you receive a suspicious call or email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, hang up or delete the email immediately without providing any information, and report it to the IRS at

Be cautious of any unsolicited requests for confidential Information.

Bad actors pose as bank employees, charities, investment brokers, utility companies, Amazon representatives, and so on. They may pretend to work for an established tech company, like Microsoft or Apple, and request remote access to your computer or account to “fix an issue” with it. They even use social media platforms, like Instagram or Facebook, to friend-request you and gain your trust. Ignore them and do not give them any information. If they are posing as a bank employee, report the incident to your bank.

Avoid mailing checks from a personal mailbox.

We’ve seen a significant uptick in check fraud, and it’s often because a mailed check was stolen and altered. Instead of mailing checks, use electronic forms of payments such as online bill pay, direct deposit, or Zelle. If you need to give a check or financial information to someone such as your tax preparer, hand delivery is always best. Afterward, double check your statement to ensure that the check you wrote was cleared for the same amount.

Track your finances vigilantly.

Whether you prefer to bank online or on paper, always monitor your expenses. Balance your accounts, balance your checkbook, and ensure that the transactions that show up on your monthly statements are valid. Monitoring and tracking your expenses is one of the most effective ways to maintain your financial integrity.

Utilize your bank’s fraud prevention tools.

Talk to your banker to see what they have available to help protect you from fraud. Many banks require two-factor authentication and early fraud detection systems. For small business owners, Midwest BankCentre offers fraud prevention tools like ACH filters, which can block certain types of transactions to protect you from losses, and Positive Pay, which lets you control which checks are paid from your business checking account.

Finally, be skeptical and use common sense.

If you receive communication from someone you don’t know or were not expecting to hear from, always assume it’s a scam. Time sensitive requests are always a red flag. Scammers often use deadlines to create a sense of urgency and get people to react quickly without thinking. Verify an email’s validity by calling or emailing the organization independently; meaning, look up the organization’s contact information rather than using the email address or phone number provided in the email.

If you suspect that you have been a victim of fraud, call your bank immediately. If a transaction doesn’t align with your records or you’ve had a breach of security, report it to your bank right away so they can control damages and minimize losses. If you suspect any fraudulent activity with your tax filing, your first call should be to the IRS and then the bank. You can report identity theft and start a recovery plan at


Midwest BankCentre takes fraud prevention extremely seriously. As our clients’ trusted advisors, your financial security and well-being is our top priority and we take every possible measure to protect it. To learn more, visit or reach out to a member of our team at 314.631.5500.