It’s tax season and the IRS is warning consumers about the many tax scams that are circulating this year. These include bogus emails and threatening phone calls. (See IRS Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts.)
Among the currently popular cons:
Email Phishing Scam: “Update your IRS e-file”
The victim receives emails that appear to be from the IRS and include a link to a bogus web site (intended to mirror the official IRS web site). These emails contain the direction “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately.” The emails mention USA.gov and IRSgov (without a dot between “IRS” and “gov”), though notably, not IRS.gov (with a dot).
Don’t get scammed. These emails are not from the IRS. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.
Taxpayers who get these messages should not respond to the email or click on the links. Instead, they should forward the scam emails to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the IRS’s Report Phishing web page.
IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scam
An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, is surging throughout the country in recent months. Victims receive threatening phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents. The scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.
These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
Or, victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information.
If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.
Note that the IRS will never: 1) call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill; 2) demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe; 3) require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card; 4) ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or 5) threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Tax Preparer Phishing Scam
Even tax preparers are targets of con artists.
In one scam a bogus email asks tax professionals to update their IRS e-services portal information and Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFINs). The links that are provided in the bogus email to access IRS e-services are a phishing scheme designed to capture usernames and passwords. This email was not generated by the IRS e-services program. Disregard this email and do not click on the links provided.
For more information on this scam, see IR-2015-31, IRS Warns Tax Preparers to Watch out for New Phishing Scam; Don’t Click on Strange Emails or Links Seeking Updated Information.
The IRS is also warning taxpayers to watch out for identity theft. Criminals will file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. Taxpayers need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid becoming a victim.
The IRS offers the following tips as ways to protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
- Protect your financial information.
- Check your credit report every 12 months.
- Review your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually.
- Secure personal information in your home.
- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.
Avoiding Tax Scams
Tax and other telephone and e-mail cons seem to getting more and more pervasive. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t get at least one scam telephone call. Older adults are particular targets. Be especially careful with any phone call or email contact you did not initiate.
If you do receive a worrisome call or contact, get help from someone you know you can trust. Involve your family members. Call the authorities directly yourself. Educate yourself. Do not give out any personal information. Don’t be a victim.
Prep for Safe Tax Filing … and for Scammers (AARP Bulletin, January 23, 2015)