The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to identify a number of scams targeting taxpayers. During the tax filing season, scammers are especially crafty in the ways they will attempt to steal your money, your tax return, and other personal information.
The most common type of IRS scams are conducted through phone and email from fraudsters impersonating federal agents (such as the IRS, but also including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Social Security Administration, or other government entities.) They seek to threaten you with arrest, jail time, deportation and/or costly fines. Some may even threaten that your information or DNA has been connected to a crime. They may also threaten your family members or claim to have them in custody to force payment from you. These phone calls are not legitimate and the IRS will not call to demand payment or threaten to send law enforcement to your home to arrest you. Additionally, the phone numbers are often spoofed, or made to appear to be a legitimate IRS phone number.
To combat these types of scams, be aware of the following Red Flags in regard to the IRS, but note that fraudsters may pretend to be from other government entities:
- You get a phone call, prerecorded voicemail or text message from the IRS. The IRS does not initiate contact via these methods nor do they use robo-calls; they will contact taxpayers by mail first.
- You are told you must stay on the line and cannot hang up the phone. Fraudsters use this tactic to isolate you from speaking with someone you trust (family members or friends) and to further enhance their bogus story. You should never feel pressured to remain on the line. These calls are not legitimate and you should hang up.
- You get an email from the IRS. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. Do not reply to the message, open any attachments, or click on any links. Note: the IRS website is IRS.gov — not IRS.com, IRS.net, IRS.org or some other variation.
- You receive a message through social media, like Facebook or Instagram. The IRS will never contact taxpayers through any social media platforms.
- You are asked for your credit or debit card number(s) over the phone, or asked to provide your account information. The IRS does not request card numbers or your bank account details (such as the routing number, accounts numbers, account balances, etc.)
- You are asked to pay with gift cards, iTunes cards, prepaid debit cards, cryptocurrency or by wire transfer. The IRS does not accept these methods for tax payments. The IRS mails paper bills- or notices- to taxpayers who owe taxes, and payment should only ever be made out to the U.S. Treasury — not a collections agency or other entity, such as an individual.
- You are told you will be arrested, deported, or have your driver’s license, passport, or visa revoked. The IRS cannot revoke your driver’s license, visa, business license, or immigration status. In addition, the IRS and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights give you the opportunity to question or appeal what the IRS says you owe.
- You are told you must act immediately for an imminent deadline. Fraudsters prey on your fear and want to elicit an immediate response before you can rationally assess the situation. Take a minute to understand what is being asked of you. The legitimate IRS will not press you for immediate action or provide you with specific deadlines, For example, ‘payment must be completed before 4pm today.’
- You are told you must withdraw cash to ship/mail or else have your bank accounts frozen. The IRS will never ask you to ship/mail cash via a shipping company or post office.
FILE TAXES WITH CAUTION
When filing taxes, be sure to use a reputable tax firm or software, as there is an increase in fraudulent tax filing websites. Beware to not click on links for free electronic filings that are located on web pages or within emails.
Taxpayers need to be especially vigilant throughout tax season to ensure that your information is not compromised. Review your credit reports on www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report through each bureau and you can pull your report three times in one year. Reviewing your deposit account(s) and credit card statements regularly is an easy way to determine if someone has unauthorized access to your account. Fraudsters will also use threatening tactics to commit Identity Theft and periodically reviewing your credit report and account statements can help stop their efforts before any damage can be done to your credit status.
If you discover that someone has filed a tax return using your tax identification number (TIN) when you attempt to file your taxes, there are immediate steps you should take:
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
- Place fraud alerts with each of the credit bureaus
- File form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with the IRS
In general, be wary of strange emails and websites that may be trying to trick you into revealing your personal information online. A good tip to verify if a website is secure is to always look for the ‘s’ after the ‘http’ on the URL of the website you are visiting, which should read ‘https://www.irs.gov’. The ‘s’ indicates the website is secure.
Additionally, never click on links within emails from persons or companies you are unfamiliar with, as they may contain malware that will infect your computer or mobile device. If you are unsure if a link to a website is safe, navigate to the website through a search engine rather than clicking on a link, as this will help avoid any computer viruses.
The best way to reduce your risk of becoming a victim is to be prepared. Use security software with anti-virus protection, use strong passwords, do not carry your tax identification number in your wallet or purse, and review your free credit reports and account statements regularly for anything that is amiss.
Common Phone Scams Include:
- Computer Support Phone Scams — (Claiming to be from Microsoft, Apple, or IT Help Desks)
- Grandparent Scams — Family members in danger or in jail that need help (or bail money)
- Lottery Scams — Indicating you have won money
- Government Agency Scams — Threatening phone calls from government agencies like the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), or SSA (Social Security Administration)
Additional information with the most recent updates of IRS scams can be found on the IRS website: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts
Similarly, the FTC has resources that include infographics, videos, and example phone recordings all with respect to the most recent scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts