Oh, joy. Tax season is under way. If that isn’t painful enough, you’ll need to be on the alert for tax-related scams designed to separate you from your money. The Internal Revenue Service says thousands of citizens fall for various schemes each year. Senior citizens are a common target. Here are a few things to know that can help you avoid getting ripped off.
The IRS says tax scams can pop up everywhere: in the mail, via email, by telephone (both land line and mobile devices), and on social media networks like Facebook (FB). In short, wherever you are, the bad guys can always find a way to reach you.
Infographic: Protect your credit
But guess what? The IRS doesn’t communicate with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media. If you are ever contacted one of these ways by someone claiming to be with the IRS, stop communicating with that person immediately. Note their email address, text number and/or social media account, and send it to IRS (I’ll tell you how below).
Ways you’ll hear from the IRS
Mail. If you ever hear from the IRS, it will almost certainly be by good old-fashioned snail mail. Even then, if for any reason you suspect the letter is not on the up-and-up, call the number below—not any number in the letter.
There may be times, however, when the IRS will call you—or even come to a home or business. But this is extremely rare. These occasions may concern an overdue bill, a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations. But this is quite rare.
Even then, says the agency, taxpayers will generally first receive several letters (called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail.
How to tell if that’s really the IRS at your door
If, on the very slim chance that someone comes to your door claiming to be from the IRS, my advice is to not even open it. Your safety comes first and how are you supposed to know what a real IRS agent looks like?
On its website, the IRS says this:
“If an IRS representative visits you, he or she will always provide two forms of official credentials called a pocket commission and HSPD-12 card. HSPD-12 is a governmentwide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification for federal employees and contractors. You have the right to see these credentials. And if you would like to verify information on the representative’s HSPD-12 card, the representative will provide you with a dedicated IRS telephone number for verifying the information and confirming their identity.”
I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what a “pocket commission” or “HSPD-12” card even looks like. Do you? So even if someone were to show them to me through my chained front door, I’m still not letting them in. I would call the IRS number on the card and verify the person’s identity. If it’s raining and they say “can I come in?” the answer is still no.
Don’t give anyone money — ever
Scammers today can make emails look like the real thing, so if you get one, or a phone call asking for money, here’s another way to tell if it’s really the IRS. The only place you would ever be asked to write a check to would be the “U.S. Treasury.” Period. You should never write a check to any other entity. Past scams have involved asking citizens to pay an alleged “debt” with a credit card, debit card or even gift card. And obviously, wiring money or handing over cash is a no-no. To learn more about paying a debt to the IRS, carefully review this page.
It’s your money! Be careful and be cautious if told you owe anything. Remember, the bad guys are clever and are always refining their ways and using the latest technology to rip people off. For a comprehensive listing of recent tax scams and consumer alerts, visit this IRS webpage dedicated to tax scams and consumer alerts.
And if you need to report a scam, the IRS asks you to do so here:
•Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” webpage. You can also call 800-366-4484.
•Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
•Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to the IRS at email@example.com.
Three final tips: The IRS will never call or email asking you to divulge personal and/or financial information. If you’re asked to do so, then you’re dealing with a scammer. Shred bank and tax documents before tossing them. bad guys love to snoop through garbage and if they can find a Social Security number, birth date and address, they’re off to the races. Also, keep security software on your computer updated.