By Clay James, Marine Federal Information Security Analyst
With tax time approaching, financial fraudsters are lying in wait, hoping for an opportunity to commit fraud on unsuspecting consumers. Make no mistake, tax fraud is BIG business. Don’t become a victim and don’t get scammed.
Unfortunately, too many taxpayers have encountered individuals impersonating Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials––in person, over the telephone and via email. We want you to understand how and when the IRS contacts taxpayers and help you determine whether a contact you may have received is truly from an IRS employee.
The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the US Postal Service. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information. The IRS will never:
- Send unsolicited emails to you, nor does the IRS email sensitive documents such as a tax transcript, which is a summary of a tax return, as an attachment.
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
- Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or e-mail.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS asking for money or verification of your identity, here’s what you should do:
- DO NOT give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Contact Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call 800-366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on www.FTC.gov. Please add IRS Telephone Scam in the notes.
If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, here’s what you should do:
- DO NOT click on any link or open any attachment.
- Send (forward) the email to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “IRS Phone Scam.”
- Delete it from your inbox.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the IRS directly at www.irs.gov or 800-366-4484.
Tax scams take many shapes and forms, such as phone calls, letters, and emails. Many IRS impersonators use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a fabricated tax bill. They may even threaten to arrest or deport their would-be victim if the victim doesn’t comply. There are a number of tax scams out there to look out for. Here are the five most common:
This scammer will call and try to convince you there has been a problem with your tax refund status. Or, even trickier, they will pretend you will get more money if you provide your bank information and tax refund status information. Discovering this scam is simple if you know one key fact: the IRS will only ever communicate with you through the mail, never by phone! If someone calls you claiming they are from the IRS, it’s a scam! Don’t give them any info, including your tax refund status. Hang up!
Crooks will also try to hijack your tax refund status through the mail. As with the phone scam, you will receive an email telling you that that the IRS is having a problem and your tax refund status might be compromised. This scam preys on the idea that you will want to resolve any problems with your tax refund status immediately! Clicking on the link in the email, however, takes you to the scammer’s website. When you enter your info and tax refund status, they begin to steal your money! Again, the IRS will never contact you in any way other than the mail, including about your refund status. If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS, it’s a scam. Report it to the IRS through their website.
sSpeaking of websites, yet another scam used by thieves is to create a fake website to get your tax refund status. Often, they will link to it in the fake emails we just referenced. However, you could stumble upon one or get a phony link in your Facebook. These websites can look completely legit, and even mimic the real IRS website. But don’t fall for it and hand over your tax refund status!
While getting help with your taxes is very handy, be sure to do research on who is helping you. While major tax preparation companies are reputable, some tax accountants are just out to take your money while they figure out your tax refund status. Luckily, with the Internet, it’s easy to do a little poking around before you give someone access to your refund status. Look for referrals and any hint of a warning about the accountant. Keep in mind nobody has a perfect record, but if there are any problems, investigate!
You’ve probably seen the ads on Google for discount tax preparation websites. Be careful before you click on them! While the website itself might actually help you with your taxes, it could be doing something else at the same time. While you fill out your tax forms to get your tax refund status, a virus can sneak in and grab your personal information. This includes your Social Security Number! Before you go to any tax website (or any website for that matter), make sure you have your virus protection software up to speed. Also, instead of going for the cheapest prep software, go for one that’s reputable!
In summary, you need to be diligent and well-educated on the various ways tax scams can strike, and take the necessary steps to combat them. Always remember—go directly to an official IRS source with your concerns and questions.
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