Many taxpayers recently filed their taxes or may be waiting for a response from the IRS. Because of this, summertime tends to be a period when thieves increase their scam attempts.
It seems like a weekly occurrence. A telephone call or voicemail from someone posing as the IRS threatening that if you don’t contact them immediately to settle your past due account the local police will be sent to arrest you. These calls may seem obviously fake to you but people continue to fall prey to these scams. Other types of scams include “phishing”. Phishing (as in “fishing for information” and “hooking” victims) is a scam where internet scammers send e-mail messages to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to steal the victims’ identity. Some of the more prevalent IRS impersonation scams include:
Targeting students and parents and demanding payment for a fake “Federal Student Tax”: Telephone scammers are targeting students and parents demanding payments for fictitious taxes, such as the “Federal Student Tax.” If the person does not comply, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested.
Sending a fraudulent IRS bill related to the Affordable Care Act: The IRS has received numerous reports around the country of scammers sending a fraudulent version of CP2000 notices. Generally, the scam involves an email or letter that includes the fake CP2000. The fraudulent notice includes a payment request that taxpayers mail a check made out to “I.R.S.” to the “Austin Processing Center” at a Post Office Box address.
Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals: Payroll and human resources professionals should be aware of phishing email schemes that pretend to be from company executives and request personal information on employees. The email contains the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this scam, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and financial and personal information including Social Security numbers (SSN).
Imitating software providers to trick tax professionals: Tax professionals are not immune from these tactics. They may receive emails pretending to be from tax software companies. The email scheme requests the recipient download and install an important software update via a link included in the e-mail. Upon completion, tax professionals believe they have downloaded a software update when in fact they have loaded a program designed to track the tax professional’s key strokes, which is a common tactic used by cyber thieves to steal login information, passwords and other sensitive data.
“Verifying” tax return information over the phone: Scam artists call saying they have your tax return, and they just need to verify a few details to process your return. The scam tries to get you to give up personal information such as a SSN or personal financial information, including bank numbers or credit cards.
Learn to identify these types of scams. If you receive an unexpected call, unsolicited email, letter or text message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here are some of the tell-tale signs to help protect yourself and stay out of the “phishing net”.
Always be suspicious. Phishing emails try to freak you out with warnings of stolen information or worse, and then offer an easy fix if you just "click here." (Or the opposite: "You've won a prize! Click here to claim it!") When in doubt, don't click. Instead, open your browser, go to the company's website, then sign in normally to see if there are any signs of strange activity. If you're concerned, change your password.
Check for bad spelling and grammar. Most of the scams that come from outside the US are riddled with spelling mistakes and bad grammar. Big companies hire professionals to make sure their emails contain perfect prose. If you're looking at one that doesn't, it's almost certainly a fake.
Make sure your web browser and antivirus software is up to date. An accidental click of a phishing link doesn't have to spell disaster. McAfee SiteAdvisor and Web of Trust are free browser add-ons that will warn you if the site you're about to visit is suspected of malicious activity. They're like traffic cops that stop you before you turn down a dangerous street.
Most of all, rely on common sense. You can't win a contest you didn't enter. Your bank won't contact you using an email address you never registered. Microsoft did not "remotely detect a virus on your PC." Know the warning signs, think before you click, and never, ever give out your password or financial information unless you're properly signed into your account.
Remember, The IRS Will Never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer or initiate contact by e-mail or text message. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Use email, text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.
- Not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Check any telephone numbers left by scammers by searching the web. Some of the phone numbers may be published online and linked to criminal activity.
- Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Enjoy your summer!
Resources and References:
- IRS Tip: Tips to Help Taxpayers Recognize Tax Scams
- IRS Reminder: Tax Scams Continue Year-Round
- IRS Tips Page