Every year, scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people, as well as stealing their personal information. The scams are getting harder and harder to detect. Here are some of the things to watch for.
1. Social Security Numbers: Getting access to your social security number is the holy grail for scammers. Once they have your number they can file a tax return under your name as well as get a loan, open a bank account, and many other things. In the newest scam the crooks claim to be able to suspend or cancel the victim’s SSN. It’s another attempt by con artists to frighten people into returning “robo” voice mails.
2. Natural Disasters: The IRS reminds taxpayers that scammers may try to take advantage of the generosity of taxpayers who want to help victims of major disasters. Don’t contribute to a cause, without thoroughly checking it out first.
3. E-Mail Impersonations: A vicious email scam debuted last year. The scammer sends you an e-mail with an IRS.gov-like website pretending to be about the taxpayer’s refund, electronic return or tax account. The emails contain a “temporary password” to “access” the files needed to obtain the refund or information. But when taxpayers click on the link, it turns out to be a malicious file.
4. Taxpayer Advocate Service: The IRS has warned the public about an impersonation phone scam whereby criminals fake calls from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS). Calls may be robo calls that request a call-back. Once someone returns the call, the con artist requests his or her personal information.
5. Ghost Tax Return Preparers: By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assist in preparing federal tax returns must have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). But ghost preparers don’t use a PTIN to sign off on returns. Instead, they just print the return and have the taxpayer sign it. According to the IRS, these unscrupulous individuals hope to make a fast buck by promising a big refund or charging fees based on a percentage of the refund.
6. Telephone Threats: Callers claim to be IRS employees, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and the debt must be paid promptly through a gift card or wire transfer. The targets may be threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. Many cave in.
7. Tax Transcripts: The IRS has pointed to a surge of fraudulent emails that impersonate the agency and use tax transcripts as bait to entice users to open documents containing malware. This scam is especially problematic for businesses whose employees might open the documents without knowledge of the scam. The malware can then spread throughout the company’s network and take months to remove.
Reminder: The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by phone, email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.