There has been an increase in tax scams from fraudsters claiming to be IRS employees attempting to either obtain personal information or solicit money from taxpayers. Each year, the IRS publishes a list of the top 12 “dirty dozen” tax scams that taxpayers may encounter. Here are a few to note as you progress through the 2017 filing season.
Email, Phishing and Malware scams
Taxpayers should watch out for fake emails which may have the IRS name and logo but are in fact scams to steal your personal information. These emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking they are official; however, these emails allow fraudsters to access your files and/or track your keystrokes. They may also contain malware which can infect people’s computers.
These schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. One example is an email stating that “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately” and provides a malicious link. This is a scam. Aside from this specific example, please be aware that scammers use various methods to disguise an email to make it appear as if it is from someone you know such as a coworker, client, customer, vendor, etc. Be wary of any links or attachments you receive, even if they appear to be from someone you know.
IRS Impersonation Telephone Scams
Be aware of phone scammers who claim to be IRS employees and can sound convincing when they call. They use bogus IRS identification badge numbers and they know a lot about their targets. They may even alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. As last year’s tax season progressed, the tactics used by phone scammers shifted to “verifying” information reported on a recently filed return. The scammers claim that the IRS has the taxpayer’s return and they just need to verify a few things. The caller may have some of your information already and may try to obtain additional personal information such as your Social Security number. Note that if they call and you don’t answer the phone, they often leave an “urgent” call back request.
Fake IRS Tax Bill Notices
In 2016, per the IRS website, they received numerous reports of scammers sending a fraudulent version of a notice labeled “CP2000 – for tax year 2015”. These notices may arrive by email as an attachment, or by regular mail. Here are signs of a fake notice:
- The notices appear to be issued from an Austin, Texas address.
- The letter says the issue is related to the Affordable Care Act and requests information regarding prior year coverage.
- The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C.
- Requests checks made out to I.R.S. and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a P.O. box.
Note that a real notice would request that checks are to be made payable to “United States Treasury”.
Paying your tax via gift card
Impersonators have been contacting people, claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payment from taxpayers in the form of iTunes gift cards. The IRS does not accept payment via gift card or any prepaid debit card. This is a scam.
Return preparer fraud
Although the vast majority of tax preparers provide honest service, there are some dishonest preparers out there who perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers. Choose your tax preparer carefully. Red flags include promises of overly large refunds or being asked to sign a blank return.
Scam artists have been known to set up fake charities to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting and well-meaning taxpayers. Be aware that they may use names that are similar to well-known charities or set up websites that look like legitimate charities. For information on researching charities before making donations, please see our blog “This is the Time of Sharing – Research before Donating”.
What should you do?
If you receive a suspicious IRS related communication, do not reply, answer personal questions or open any attachments. In addition to providing fraudsters with sensitive information, there may be malicious code within attachments which can access information from your computer or damage your computer. Report any suspicious IRS related communication by visiting this website https://www.irs.gov/uac/report-phishing. You can read more about how to protect your personal and financial information in our blog “Cyber Crime! Protect Your Personal Information!”.
Please remember that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text or social media to request personal or financial information. As a general precaution, anytime you are contacted by phone, email, or text message from someone claiming to be from a legitimate institution, NEVER provide any personal information. Although it may be legitimate, anyone can pose fraudulently as a legitimate source. You can let them know you do not feel comfortable giving them information and call the institution back to ensure the inquiry was valid.
If you suspect identity theft, you may contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490. Be sure to report it to one of the three major credit reporting bureaus so they can put a fraud alert on your credit score. Additionally, contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
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