Guest editorial: Spring brings flowers, tax scammers
Tax season is upon us once again. Across the country, millions of Americans are taking time out of their busy schedules to file their tax returns. But with tax season, unfortunately, comes a tide of deceitful tax scammers who prey upon Americans ...
Tax season is upon us once again. Across the country, millions of Americans are taking time out of their busy schedules to file their tax returns.
But with tax season, unfortunately, comes a tide of deceitful tax scammers who prey upon Americans and try to bilk them out of their hard-earned money. Often, these scammers will call their would-be victims and, while impersonating IRS agents, threaten to sue unless the victim sends them money immediately.
According to the IRS, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been targeted by these scams, and thousands have been cheated out of over $26.5 million since October 2013. Given these staggering numbers, it’s important that everybody knows what to watch out for this time of year to avoid falling victim to scammers’ increasingly sophisticated tactics. And it’s especially important that we watch out for our loved ones and neighbors, particularly the elderly who are often a primary target of tax scammers and fraudsters.
QUESTION: What should I be on the lookout for this tax season?
ANSWER: Be alert for unsolicited calls from people claiming to be IRS officials and who demand that you pay an overdue tax bill. In many ways, these calls can seem legitimate. The scammers may use your name, your home address, and even the last four digits of your Social Security number to sound informed and credible. The number they call from may even look like it belongs to the IRS or another government agency. The scammers may use IRS titles or fake badge numbers to introduce themselves and to try to gain your trust. Sometimes they leave “urgent” callback requests through telephonic “robo-calls,” or via a luring email. Their goal in any case is to trick you into sending money, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, as fast as possible. When they don’t get their way, phone scammers use threats of arrest or prosecution to bully you into immediate payment.
To help protect yourself, keep in mind the following five things these scammers often do but which the IRS will never do. Any one of these is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:
n Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
n Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
n Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
n Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
n Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
QUESTION: If I think I’ve been targeted by a tax scam, what should I do next?
ANSWER: Use one of the following resources before providing any personal information:
If you think you may owe taxes or know you owe taxes:
n Do not give out any information. Hang up the phone immediately.
n Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you find out whether you in fact have unpaid taxes.
If you know you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think you owe taxes:
n Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to report the scam call. Use its “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 1-800-366-4484.
n Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes of your report.
Keep in mind, tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more information, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.
The bottom line is this: Tax scammers and fraudsters are breaking the law. People work too hard year-round to be tricked out of their money during tax season. By keeping in mind these tips, and by helping to watch out for our loved ones and neighbors, we can all help to put these scammers out of business. For more information, please see the following resources:
n Five Easy Ways to Spot a Scam Phone Call on irs.gov.
n Government Impostor Scams on consumer.ftc.gov.
n IRS Imposter Scams Infographic on consumer.ftc.gov.
n Fighting Fraud: U.S. Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors on aging.senate.gov.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a senior member and former chairman of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over the IRS.