Same Time, Same Place, Same Scams

So it’s the time of the year when people are either going to owe the government some money or they will get some money back.  Yes, it’s tax time.  It seems that because it’s a time of expected income or anticipated expenses, nefarious people are hard at work trying to use these events to get a handle on money that’s not theirs.  There is a general theme to most scams going on right now related to tax season, as well as numerous other tax fraud scams that continue to run all year round.  However, these scams are not really new, and can be easily avoided by following simple rules and logic.

Delinquent Tax Notices

The first scam to be aware of is the Delinquent Tax Notices.  These have historically been aggressive voice mail messages or short, terse phone conversations with promises of in-person follow-up by the FBI or other police department.  In general, the message goes something like this:

We are contacting you for a final notice that you still owe $X in back taxes and this must be corrected immediately.

They generally offer a “simple” solution for addressing the additional taxes, often wire transfers or prepaid debit card transfers.  If they don’t get cooperation, though, that’s where the aggressiveness comes into play.  Often the target will be threatened with arrest, deportation, notification of employer, or even driver license suspension.  Because of this tactic, the intent of the scam is to scare the target into paying up right on the phone.

This scam is very effective because of the level of fear involved.  The general public does not know tax law by heart.  The general public doesn’t know repercussions for failed taxes, but they have some pretty clear notions of what could happen.  They also don’t necessarily know what the process is for handling incorrect or missing taxes that the IRS actually follows.  As such, when presented with an American sounding person representing themselves as the IRS and knowing a decent amount about the target, it’s easy enough to understand a person being overwhelmed with anxiety.  The scammers may even make their caller ID show up as coming from the IRS.

In order to stay safe from this type of scam, it helps to know what the IRS will and won’t do in order to contact you or follow-up on tax-related items.

  • The IRS will:
    • Contact you directly via physical mail if there are issues with your taxes or they need follow-up.
    • Provide information on how to appeal or get additional information on a finding or request.
    • Internally investigate these scammers if you report the event to them via their web or phone portal.
    • Provide Employee Name and Badge Number if they do need to call you directly.  (This information can be validated independently by the IRS at 1-800-366-4484 and then you can call them back if they were legitimate.  They will not be offended if you request this process.)
  • 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. 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.

Because of the prevalence and variety of these scams, it’s important to report any time you receive these to the IRS to help them with their investigations and public awareness.  The IRS has a phishing center to help collect information and report these scams.  See https://www.irs.gov/uac/report-phishing for all the different scams, clear methods for verifying IRS activity versus scammers, and additional alerts and updates.

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