You’ve heard the expression “the taxman cometh,” but can he “calleth?” That question should be going through anyone’s mind who receives a phone call from the IRS. Seattle-area Elder Law Attorney, Rajiv Nagaich was home one day when his wife received a call that she was being sued. The caller identified herself as an IRS employee. She had an employee number. She willingly gave up her work number. The number was for some place in Ignacio, CA but it wasn’t for an IRS office.
- If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do: If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
- If you’ve been targeted by these scams, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Unfortunately, these sorts of IRS scams were pervasive this tax season. At least a million dollars has been stolen from taxpayers this year in the largest IRS phone scam ever. And that’s just one phone scam. The scammers targeted recent immigrants and other taxpayers. Here are some tips on what to look for if you get contacted by someone identifying themselves as being from the IRS:
- Despite jokes to the contrary, the IRS are not a bunch of street thugs able to threaten jail time, deportation, revoked licenses, or the like. If you owe taxes, the IRS will send a written notice via U.S. mail. Employees never ask for credit, debit or prepaid card information over the telephone.
- If you get a phone call from a scammer, they can seem legitimate. For instance: they may provide you with fake names (usually common names and surnames), may have the last four digits of your Social Security number, the caller ID may falsely identify them as from the IRS, may send e-mails as support to the calls, and may imitate background noise that resembles a call site. In addition, a separate call from someone indicating they are from the local police or DMV may appear to support their claim.
Just weeks before the call to the Nagaich household, my brother received a call from the sheriff’s department. The sheriff’s department and the county were investigating a fraudulently filed tax return—his. According to this news story about tax fraud, thieves have fraudulently filed and claimed billions of tax refunds.
- The top IRS scam this year was identity theft. That’s what happened to my brother. Someone used his taxpayer ID to file a fraudulent tax return and claim his refund. There is an entire section on the IRS website dedicated to identity theft.
Phishing sounds like something you do to get out on the water and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature but in this case we are talking about electronic scams. These typically unsolicited emails pose as the real deal. Scammers have gotten increasingly better at creating sites that mimic the real sites people want to go to and using those sites to collect your personal information. It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not request PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for personal financial accounts. The IRS has information online that can help you protect yourself from email scams.
- If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Some callers inform people they are eligible for significant tax returns. This is the IRS equivalent of the Nigerian lottery. The government doesn’t inform people when they have a significant tax return coming to them.
Taxpayers should take care when choosing an individual or firm to prepare their taxes. Honest return preparers generally: ask for proof of income and eligibility for credits and deductions; sign returns as the preparer; enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN); provide the taxpayer a copy of the return.The IRS reminds all taxpayers that they are legally responsible for what’s on their returns even if it was prepared by someone else. Taxpayers who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.
You can verify the legitimacy of the person or organization you’ve chosen to do your tax return by following a checklist the IRS has made available on their site.
Recently, Washington state experienced the Oso mudslide tragedy. Americans are often quick to make donations to charities in the event of such tragedies but scammers are often just as quick to create false charitable organizations whose stated mission is to help the victims. Often, very little, if any of the donations ever make it to the victims. These scammers often contact the victims with a stated aim to help them when in reality they created false organizations to obtain personal information from the victims that make them a victim yet again.
- Call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (866-562-5227) if you are a disaster victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues.
- To help disaster victims, donate to recognized charities.
- Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible.
- Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.
- Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.
There is a lot of money to be made scamming individuals. Avoid having that money be your money by staying on top of the current ways people are swindling others. If you successfully thwart someone’s attempts to defraud you and even if you do not and become a victim, contact the appropriate individuals to report it so the word can get out. Scammers rely on people being isolated, afraid or ignorant. Do your part by helping your friends and neighbors avoid being any of those things.