Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
WASHINGTON – Tax season is stressful enough, but now taxpayers have to increasingly deal with deception.
The Internal Revenue Service has issued yet another advisory warning people about telephone calls or emails from people pretending to be from the agency. The cons are typically an attempt to get you to send money or persuade you to give out personal details in an identity-theft scam.
Even an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission got such a call. In a blog post for the FTC, Lisa Weintraub Schifferle wrote that she received the following voicemail message: “Hello, we have been trying to reach you. This call is officially a final notice from the IRS, Internal Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing a lawsuit against you.”
She wrote that the message scared her kids, who asked: “What does it mean they are filing a lawsuit? Can they send you to jail? Shouldn’t you call them back?”
She said she “calmly explained that there was no reason to worry. It couldn’t possibly be the real IRS.”
These calls can be frightening, which is why people fall for them. In its annual list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams, the IRS said threatening and aggressive phone calls by someone impersonating an IRS agent remains in the top spot. Callers often tell people that they will be arrested, deported or subject to other legal actions if they don’t send the money immediately.
The FTC, meanwhile, said tax-related identity theft was the most common form of fraud reported to the agency last year. Typically the goal of the scammer is to get your Social Security number so he or she can file a fraudulent tax return to get a refund (one reason to file early). The FTC said it received 109,063 complaints last year about tax-identity theft.
It received 54,690 complaints about IRS imposter scams, up substantially from the 2,545 scams reported in 2013.
Coming in second on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list are phishing scams sent by email. The goal of these messages, which can look very convincing, is to steal your personal information. Armed with that info, someone can open credit cards in your name or tap into your existing accounts.
Here’s how I protect myself when I get a telephone call that sounds real, or an email that looks authentic and doesn’t immediately set off my scam alarm.
I’ve instituted a rule to not believe any unsolicited communications from strangers. Caller ID can be manipulated to appear legit. So when I get a call, I tell the person that I’ll independently find a number for the business or agency and call them right back. Almost every time, the person hangs up on me. In the few other cases, he or she will try to give me a number. But no, I don’t fall for that. I repeat that I’ll look for the number myself.
I also don’t click on any links in emails that I’m not expecting. I’ve gotten some convincing emails that appeared to be from my company’s IT department. They came about the time we were going through some upgrades. Still, I checked on the authenticity by forwarding them to IT.
Here are some things the IRS says to keep in mind to help avoid being a victim of tax scams:
• The IRS will not initiate contact with you by phone or email to ask for your personal or financial information. The government loves a paper trail. The IRS will write you first. If you are unsure about a tax bill, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. You may have to wait on hold for a while, but it’s better than getting conned.
• The IRS will not give you an ultimatum to pay up immediately. You will get a bill. The agency won’t call to congratulate you for getting a refund, another twist on the scam.
• The IRS will not dictate how you pay your bill by requiring, for example, that you send a prepaid debit card.
You can help stem this crime by forwarding any suspicious email to email@example.com. Contact the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. Go to www.treasury.gov/tigta. Click on the link on the homepage for “IRS Impersonation Scam.” Also report any suspected scams to the FTC. Go to ftc.gov and click on the link that says “Consumer Complaint?”
Yes, the IRS can be aggressive in its collection methods, but don’t let anyone scare you. The agency isn’t going to threaten to send the police to your house.
Copyright 2015, Washington Post Writers Group