The IRS is urging taxpayers to be on the lookout for scams as they continue to increase across the nation. Recent scams have involved current events and disasters in the news, with scammers taking advantage of those trying to help others. The IRS encourages taxpayers and tax preparers to be careful when receiving weird or suspicious emails. Scams evolve over time and can adjust to different events or news, but they all typically follow familiar theme.
While the country is dealing with the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the wildland fires in the West, criminals have been taking advantage of the situation by creating fake charities to not only take people’s money, but to be able to get people’s personal information. Scammers can impersonate an agency or charity that provides relief to victims or they can create fake agencies to try and steal your money. Scams like these will ask for donations by contacting you by phone, social media, email or by asking you in person.
Scammers not only take advantage of people’s kindness, they also take advantage of what your occupation is and how they can trick you into revealing personal information. The IRS has recently seen a growth in email schemes that target tax professionals, payroll professionals, and human resources personnel. In the email phishing scams, criminals will pose as a person or organization that the taxpayer trusts and recognizes. They may do this by hacking into an email account and sending out a mass email or they may pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider, or government agency. If a person clicks on the link in an email, it will take them to a fake website. The website was created by the scammer and it will appear to be legitimate, but it will contain phony login pages. The scammers hope you take the bait and fill out the forms, giving them information such as your passwords, Social Security number or other information that can lead to identity theft. Scam emails and websites can also infect your computer with malware without you even knowing. This malware can give scammers access to your computer or phone, letting them get into sensitive files or be able to track keyboard strokes.
It’s important to remember in these moments that the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This means all types of electronic communication including text messages or through social media channels. If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS or a program linked to the IRS, report it by sending the email to email@example.com. You can learn more about online scams and how to report them by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on the IRS website.
Along with email scams, scammers will try to call you and get personal information over the phone. The most common phone scam is one where the scammer leaves a message saying you need to call back and if you don’t a warrant will be issued for your arrest. You used to be secure in knowing the IRS would never call you, but now they have given certain taxpayer’s accounts to four private-sector collection agency, and those agencies may call you. Before the agency ever calls you, the IRS will send you a letter letting you know that you will assigned to an agency and only then will you receive a call. The agencies will only be calling about a tax debt you have known about for years. You would have also already been contacted by the IRS about your tax debt.
The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. However, there are certain occasions in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as a taxpayer that has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or criminal investigation. Even then, you will usually receive several letters before they come knocking.
To help keep your information safe, it’s important to remember these few steps. First, always use security software and anti-virus protections. Second, learn to recognize scams such as threatening phone calls or emails. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails. Lastly, make sure your tax records are secure and do not regularly carry around your social security card.