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Annual Cautionary Note on IRS Scams as Tax Deadline Approaches

Each year as the tax season arrives, scammers flood telephones and e-mail accounts with schemes trying to trick us so they may steal our identification, our passwords and otherwise attempt to file returns under our social security number for bogus refunds.  As you know, this is a very serious matter and one which is difficult to correct.

A taxpayer’s natural anxiety and fear of the IRS is what scammers use to ply information from their victim.  The best way to protect yourself is to understand how scammers operate, what fears they prey upon, and to understand your legal rights.

Typically the scammer will be a very aggressive sounding individual trying to intimidate you by sounding official and claiming that your property will be confiscated unless certain payments are made immediately over the phone with a credit card.  Your personal information is sacred, you should NEVER give it out to anyone you do not know, whether over the phone, in email, or otherwise.  The information the scammer will try to obtain is your name, social security, and birthdate.  If you suspect the call is from a scammer, a good technique to dissuade him is to ask for his supervisor or for his phone number.  This is sometimes enough to persuade the scammer to move on to an easier target.

No one likes to hear from the IRS and there is a great deal of anxiety when one does.  Fears of owing money, thinking you have done something wrong or that your reputation or credit rating might be at risk are just three of the concerns taxpayers imagine when the scammer call comes.  But you should be aware the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer via telephone or e-mail.  It will always be through the U.S. mail.  So rest assured, you will NEVER receive an unexpected call from the IRS demanding any tax payments.  If this occurs, this is definitely a scam.  Your best defense in these situations is to simply hang up the phone without saying anything.

(NOTE: a slightly different twist on the scam is a call from an individual who purports to be a debt collector. If this were actually the case, he must advise you of such over the telephone.  Bono fide debt collectors will always send a letter to protect the interests of their clients, the creditors.)

If you receive an e-mail that purports to be from the IRS, never open any of the links or attachments.  These may infect your computer with a phishing scheme which will reveal names of all your contacts, your passwords (if any are saved), and data files (like spread sheets or electronic copies of your tax returns) if they too are not password protected.  In the worst case scenario, the e-mail may place malware on your computer and thereby lockup your ability to access your computer unless you pay a ransom to unscrupulous individuals.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:  The IRS has rules it must follow.  The IRS will never ask for a credit card or other such payment method over the telephone.  The IRS never insists on a specific type of payment, check, money order, credit card, etc.  The IRS never requests immediate payment over the telephone or by email.  The IRS will only take enforcement action to collect monies after mailing, in the U.S. mail, a Statutory Notice of Deficiency, a/k/a the “90 day letter.”  This letter signals an enforcement action by the IRS against you.  The IRS will not take your money or assets until it has mailed the 90 Day Letter to your last known address (generally the address on your tax return) and the 90 day period has elapsed as noted in that letter.

Other scams are out there.  The IRS is not the only organization whose authority has attempted to be co-opted.  You should be cautious if you receive e-mails from your bank or your credit card company for communications you do not initiate.  Your best advice is to always be skeptical of any phone call or e-mail you receive in this regard.  Question the authenticity of the call or e-mail.  You should contact us if you suspect a scam, we can help determine whether or not it is a scam and if so, relieve your anxiety.

Yet another clever scam:  Recently, taxpayers have been asked to reply to an e-mail to validate their income tax refund.  THE IRS NEVER DOES THIS!  You are asked to give your name, social security numbers and birth dates.  JUST HANG UP.

If the IRS ever rejects your tax return because your social security number has been previously used to file that year’s tax return, you can be pretty well assured that someone has stolen your ID.  If this occurs, you should contact us so that we can notify the IRS immediately.  If you believe that your personal identification or social security number has been compromised, the IRS will issue a special six digit identity protection number which must be used in conjunction with your social security number when filing your tax return.  The IRS then will block all filed tax returns with your social security number unless the special six digit ID is also input.

Scams are serious matters that should not be taken lightly.  Be aware, be skeptical and remember there are bad guys out there wanting to take advantage of you and your family.

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