Tax scammers come in many forms. Some perpetrators will offer you a fake tax refund via email. Others will call to “help” you file your tax return. And the really brazen ones pose as IRS agents and show up at your front door.
These are often attempts to gain access to personal information, including Social Security numbers, banking information and other private details that make identity theft easy. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund.
Generally, an identity thief will use your Social Security number to file a false return early in the year. You may be unaware that you’re a victim until you try to file your taxes and learn that a return has already been filed using your number.
Experts advise people to keep their Social Security number well protected and provide it only when it’s required.
“All of your financial information is a blueprint to your life so make sure that you keep it close to you. Don’t just hand it over because someone asks for it,” IRS spokeswoman Patricia Svarnas said.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261. (TTY refers to the telephone system for the deaf or hearing-impaired.)
As the April 15 filing deadline nears, the IRS encourages taxpayers to be on the lookout for fraudulent tax preparers and unexpected communications -- by phone or email -- from people claiming to work for the IRS.
Here are three scams to watch for:
The most pervasive tax scam involves telephone fraud. Since 2013, scammers have managed to swindle U.S. taxpayers out of $15 million. The typical phone scam goes something like this: Someone claiming to be with the IRS calls with bad news. They say you owe the government unpaid tax money, and if you don’t pay immediately over the phone -- with a credit or debit card -- you’ll be audited, arrested or even deported.
If you ever receive that kind phone call (or voicemail) from an IRS agent, it’s a big red flag. Hang up immediately, Svarnas said. “We would never ask you for a debit or credit card number, and we don’t threaten you with jail time, deportation or audits. That’s not how the IRS does business.”
If you need to call the IRS to verify that you’re in good standing, or any other reason, help-line phone numbers are available here: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Telephone-Assistance
Scammers attempt to obtain sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers and credit card details, by phishing, or pretending to be the IRS in a fake email. These emails often contain a link to a website that looks very similar to an official IRS site.
“Never respond to anything you receive via email,” Svarnas said. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information, including any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. As a rule you should never open attachments or click on links contained in these messages.
One thing you can do to help the IRS nab these phishy con artists: Forward suspicious e-mails to email@example.com.
Fraudulent Tax Preparers
Another scammer to watch for: the fraudulent tax preparer who claims to be a tax professional. Some preparers will ask tax filers to have their refund deposited into the preparer’s checking account. That’s not a good idea. Preparers are using this particular scam on people who have signed up for the Affordable Care Act tax credit. “If a tax preparer tells you they need to get your money instead of you getting it directly, be skeptical about that,” said Kay Bell, tax editor at Bankrate.com.
If you’re in a panic and you go to a tax preparer in these last few weeks, make sure you find a genuine tax professional and not someone who recently jumped into the tax filing business to make a fast buck. If a tax preparer is not affiliated with a nonprofit or commercial service, make sure they are approved by the IRS. To find an authorized IRS provider, click here: http://www.irs.gov/Filing/E-File-Options