April 15th has come and gone but that doesn’t mean that tax scammers have closed up shop for the season. On the contrary, it appears that criminals are continuing to target unsuspecting taxpayers despite the fact that the filing deadline has already passed.
The latest tax scheme involves callers who claim to the be IRS representatives. According to a press release issued by Treasury Inspector General of Tax Administration J. Russell George, more than 20,000 taxpayers have fallen victim to the scam, with losses totaling over $1 million.
George characterized it as “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen” and warned taxpayers against becoming a victim. He went on to say that the number of people receiving unsolicited calls from people claiming to be from the IRS was alarming, noting that taxpayers have been targeted in almost every state. If you’ve already filed your taxes or you’re waiting until the extension deadline, here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.
How Phone Scammers Operate
While the wording each scammer uses may vary, the M.O. is the same. Callers identify themselves as an IRS agent and tell the victim that they’re either eligible for a sizable refund or that they owe more money in taxes. If the victim is slow to take the bait, the scammer may threaten to call the police or have their driver’s license revoked unless they pay up.
The scammers use sophisticated technology to make it seem like the call is coming from the IRS. In some cases, they take it a step further by offering a fake IRS badge number or verifying the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number. If a potential victim seems doubtful, they may send out phishing emails or call a second time and claim to be from the police department or the department of motor vehicles.
Once they’re able to convince their target that the call is real, the next step is to get them to hand over their personal information or solicit money from them directly. The criminals may ask you to make a payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card or request your credit card number. By the time you figure out what’s going on, the damage has already been done.
Avoiding a Scam
One of the things that scammers tend to rely on is the fact that most people aren’t aware of how the IRS actually operates. It’s highly uncommon for the IRS to contact people by phone or email. If there’s an issue with your tax filing, you’ll be notified by postal mail. The IRS also doesn’t ask you to make payments using wire transfer or prepaid debit cards and they’ll never request your credit card information over the phone.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, avoid giving up any of your personal information to the caller. The best thing to do is hang up and call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. You’ll be connected to an IRS employee who can tell you whether you actually owe any outstanding taxes. If you don’t owe anything, you should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General’s office by calling 1-800-366-4484. Finally, you should lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
If you’ve received an unsolicited email that you think is suspicious, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Beware of opening attachments or clicking on links included in the email since these can install damaging viruses or tracking software on your computer.
Finally, the IRS urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for other tax scams that are less common. These include phony sweepstakes and debt relief scams that involve individuals who claim to work for the IRS. For more on tax scams and how to avoid them, check out the latest consumer alerts on the IRS website.