With technology continually advancing, most of us use it to enhance and improve our lives. However, criminals have also learned to use this technology, resulting in an increased number of complex, and often difficult to identify scams. One notable area of concern for such activity is the increasing number of scams contacting taxpayers pretending to be the IRS or state revenue agencies. This begs the question: what do these scams look like? The answer is, unfortunately, very variable.
One of the most recent scams which the IRS issued a public warning about involves a scam
in which the criminals fake or spoof calls from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) office in Houston or Boston, an organization within the IRS dedicated to assisting taxpayers. The criminals may utilize “robo-calls” to
request a call back; and once the intended victim returns the call, the scammers request personal info, including Social Security numbers or individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs). Other variations of the IRS impersonation scam might have the scammers informing the victim that they owe a significant amount of taxes on which payment is due immediately by a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Such callers are often hostile and abusive.
Alternatively, the victim might be informed they are entitled to a refund but must provide personal info. In such cases, the characteristics of the scam might include:
1. Scammers using fake names and IRS badge numbers
2. Scammers may know the last 4 digits of the victims Social Security number, often obtained from external sources such as the Equifax data breach
3. Threatening victims with jail time or professional license revocation
Taxpayers may also receive fake IRS notices threatening liens or levies. These are often based on bogus taxes owed to an agency such as the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement” – a nonexistent entity. By utilizing references to the IRS and official looking letter heads, the false notices confuse victims into thinking the letter is from a legitimate organization.
So how can you protect yourself from falling victim to these scams? Well, there are many warning signs that a communication is a scam.
1. If the communication came from an email, text message, or social media – it is a scam. The IRS does not use these channels to discuss tax debts or refunds.
2. The IRS initiates most contact with taxpayers through regular mail delivered by USPS. However, there are special circumstances, such as an overdue tax bill, when the IRS may call. If the communication is a phone call about a tax matter that you have not received one or more letters/notices, there is an above average chance that it is a scam.
3. If the person speaking on the other end of a phone call is being demanding or threatening – It is likely a scam.
4. If the communication demands use of a specific payment method such as prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers – it is a scam. The IRS will not ask for debit/credit card info over the phone.
5. If the communication demands immediate payment – it is a scam. IRS correspondences begin with letters/notices and taxpayers have an opportunity to appeal or question what is owed.
6. If the communication threatens to “bring in” local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement – it is a scam.
7. If the communication threatens to revoke a license or immigration status – it is a scam. The IRS does not have this authority.
The IRS also offers one final tip for those who may owe taxes and have received a communication of dubious nature – do not call the number listed on the communication. Look up the corresponding agencies website and call the appropriate number listed to verify the issue.