With the April 15th deadline less than two weeks away, it is once again the perfect time to remind taxpayers that “tax time” is “scam time.” Tax scams, which include tax Identity theft and other efforts to trick taxpayers into giving scammers access to their personal and financial information, have been a very hot topic in recent years!
One reason is because tax scamming efforts are becoming more sophisticated and aggressive. For instance, a few years ago, an unsuspecting taxpayer might receive an e-mail purporting to be from the IRS and telling them they were due a refund they didn’t realize they were owed, but which also required them to click on a link and enter personal and financial information. Or a taxpayer may have received an e-mail from the “IRS” saying their assets would be frozen unless they (once again) clicked on a link and entered their personal and financial information. But upon closer inspection an astute taxpayer could figure out that the “IRS communication” was fake as it may have included misspelled words, poor grammar or linked to a website other than the official IRS site.
And while scammers are still sending out these same types of phishing e-mails, unscrupulous tax scammers have hit an all-time low with sophisticated efforts that involve phone calls which appear to be legitimate and are carried out by scammers that threaten arrest and deportation. Because of the way in which this tax scam is carried out, seniors and immigrants are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims.
So in today’s post, I explain what scammers are doing to carry out this phone tax scam, and what targeted taxpayers should do. As a Spanish-speaking Latina tax professional, and because of my desire to bring this scam to the attention of our Spanish-speaking readers and Latino taxpayers, I’ve also written my post in Spanish. (You can find it right after the relevant links at the end of this English version, at about page 3.)
IRS Warns of Pervasive Telephone Scam
In its News Release warning taxpayers about this sophisticated phone scam, the IRS reports that taxpayers in nearly every state in the country have been hit by this scam and explains how it is typically carried out.
The scam starts with the targeted taxpayer receiving a phone call which shows up on the taxpayer’s caller-ID as being from the IRS’ toll-free number. The scammers on the call use fake IRS badge numbers and common first and last names, such as John Smith, to identify themselves. Often the scammer is able to recite the last four digits of the taxpayer’s Social Security Number. To make the call sound more “official” to the taxpayer, the scammers will include background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call center. Sometimes the scammers also send a bogus IRS email to support the call. The purpose of the call is to inform the targeted victim that they owe money to the IRS that must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer.
But here’s where the scammer really get downright unscrupulous. If a taxpayer questions the call or refuses to cooperate, the scammer will begin by insulting the targeted victim and then threaten them with driver’s license revocation, police arrest or deportation unless they pay immediately.
But the scammers don’t stop there! After the threatening call from the “IRS” ends, the targeted victim receives another call. Once again, it’s the scammers — this time pretending to be the Department of Motor Vehicles, local police, or other authoritative or law enforcement agency. And once more, the victim’s caller ID supports the scammer’s claim.
You can see why seniors and immigrants, especially recent immigrants, are particularly vulnerable to this sophisticated phone scam.
What Targeted Taxpayers Should Do If They Are Victims of the Phone Scam
The first thing that taxpayers should keep in mind is that the IRS’ initial contact with a taxpayer is always by mail, never by phone. Also, as the IRS has been telling taxpayers for years, the IRS never asks for personal tax information over the phone. The IRS also never requests any form of payment — credit cards, pre-paid debit cards or wire transfers — over the phone.
If a taxpayer does receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, they should do the following: