Tax season is rife with criminals seeking to exploit Americans’ fears related to the IRS, and in recent years, scam artists have been stepping up efforts to steal money from taxpayers using aggressive phone scare tactics, fraudulent emails, identity theft and other forms of deceit. Even more alarming, the perpetrators of these crimes have been getting increasingly sophisticated in their approach—causing disruption and panic even among Americans who believe they should know better and robbing taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars. To help avoid falling prey to these offenders, be sure to familiarize yourself with these two common schemes that rank among the IRS’s top tax-time scams for 2016:
Phone calls from IRS impersonators: If you talk to almost anyone you know, you’re likely learn that they have a friend or family member who’s received a threatening phone call from an IRS impostor regarding outstanding taxes that they supposedly owe from previous years and now must pay right away. Confrontational and frighteningly convincing, these callers often identify themselves with fake names and badge numbers, and usually change the number that’s displayed on caller ID. These criminals tend to demand payment through a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer, and threaten immediate legal action such as arrest, deportation and driver’s license revocation if payment is not made. They may even suggest taking out a bank loan to cover back taxes and/or insist that they tried to deliver several notifications about your tax bill to your address but that you were “not home” to accept these documents.
Be aware that the IRS will not call you with a demand for immediate payment, nor will they ever call you about taxes owed without having mailed you correspondence regarding unpaid taxes. In addition, they will not force you to pay a tax bill without giving you the opportunity to appeal the amount they say that you owe. Furthermore, the IRS won’t require you to use a specific form of payment to settle your outstanding taxes, ask for credit or debit card information over the phone, or call to threaten you with arrest for not having paid your taxes.
As the tax season progresses and awareness of this IRS phone scam spreads throughout the country, criminals are adjusting their phone tactics. A common new scheme is to call taxpayers and pretend to be an IRS employee that needs to verify details on a return so that it can be processed. With this scam, the caller attempts to get people to divulge personal financial information such as bank account or credit card information, social security numbers, etc.
Email phishing scams: Already this year, the IRS has reported a 400 percent increase in the use of fraudulent emails to con Americans into exposing confidential information supposedly related to their taxes. Commonly referred to as phishing scams, these emails often contain links that direct people to fake websites made to appear like an official site of the IRS or another tax-related site. Once directed to these sites, people are asked to provide personal information or may have their computer infected with software that can access their files or record their keystrokes in order to steal account information and passwords.
One of the most recent of these phishing scams involves emails pertaining to tax refunds that appear to originate from the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP). A federal advisory committee created to provide suggestions on how the IRS can improve customer service, TAP does not have access to any taxpayer’s personal financial information, and this volunteer board will never request that you provide this to them. If you receive an email that claims to be from TAP about your personal tax refund, you can safely assume that it is from a con artist trying to steal your personal data, and your money.
How to handle the tax-time fraudsters: If you find yourself targeted by a criminal seeking to cash in on your tax-related anxieties or your anticipation of receiving your tax refund, be sure to take action to help reduce the damage that these criminals can do. Do not engage in a conversation with a caller who is claiming to be from the IRS and is demanding personal financial information from you. Instead, hang up the phone immediately and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at http://bit.ly/IRSImpersonationScamReport, or call their hotline at 800-366-4484. Suspicious tax-related emails should be forwarded to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.