Avoid Tax Scams and Protect Your Assets With These IRS Tips
This tax season has already been rife with fraud. Here’s how to prevent it
This bogus IRS letter was sent to a Westchester resident — luckily, she noticed her name had been misspelled, and she contacted the authorities
No one is immune to becoming a tax scam victim. While IRS scams aren’t as obvious as the well-known Nigerian Prince scam, as April 15 approaches, it’s important to be on the lookout for scammers trying to profit during this tax season.
Scammers have become so sophisticated and widespread that they actually tried to scam Treasury Deputy Inspector General Timothy Camus. Three thousand taxpayers were scammed out of $15.5 million using similar methods this tax season, and IRS impersonators are “the largest and most pervasive impersonation scam,” according to Camus.
One Westchester resident recently reported a scam in which her name was misspelled in a letter (shown above, which they sent to our sister publication, Westchester Magazine), ostensibly from the IRS, that went on to say she had filed her taxes before getting her W2. Luckily, she caught the mistakes and reported it, but according to IRS spokesperson Patricia J. Svarnas, “people are paying thousands of dollars” to these (and other) types of scammers nationwide.
In addition to mail-based scams, people are getting calls saying they owe money in taxes, and being threatened with audits or jail time.
“Right now we’re trying to get the word out about phone scams we’re seeing,” said Svarnas. “The IRS doesn’t phone as first point of contact... we contact people to work through their issues, usually in a letter.” These callers often have an aggressive and threatening tone, which a real IRS representative would (hopefully!) avoid using.
The IRS also does not use email as first point of contact; they would only email a person as a follow-up to a previous interaction. One of their major concerns is phishing: a scammer’s attempt to acquire an individual’s information by posing as a legitimate organization online.
“You’ll receive an email with a link to a website that looks official and sophisticated,” said Svarnas. “We are doing our best to get information out to the media.”
While it is difficult to pin down tax scammers, many of whom are overseas, the IRS makes an effort to aid people who may have been victims. Below are some of the top warning signs — and what you should do about them.
Common red flags:
- Someone has already filed your tax return
- New taxes you don’t normally receive in a message
- Collections you weren’t expecting
- Wages from an employer you didn’t work for
- Someone asking for information you normally would not provide over the phone or email (SSN, private financial information, etc.)
- Mistakes like “Internal Revenue Services,” rather than “Service”; misspelled personal information; etc.
What to do:
- Report the incident to your local police department
- Call the IRS hotline (800-829-1040) to discuss the status of your return
- File a report with the Treasury Inspector General
- Contact one of three major credit bureaus to close accounts that were tampered with
- Use the IRS identity theft resources to make sure your data and accounts are protected