Watch Out! They Be Scammin’!!
How many calls have you gotten? I think I get at least 2 a week. And they sound very threatening. So… here’s the latest from the IRS. (It’s a bit lengthy, but worth your time.)
Part I: The Phone Call – “We’re Coming for You!”
IRS Warns Taxpayers of Summer Surge in Automated Phone Scam Calls; Requests for Fake Tax Payments Using iTunes Gift Cards
IR-2016-99, August 2, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to stay vigilant against an increase of IRS impersonation scams in the form of automated calls and new tactics from scammers demanding tax payments on iTunes and other gift cards.
The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of the victim if they don’t agree to pay.
“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
“Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer (and now fall) surge of phone scams, and watch for clear warning signs as these scammers change tactics.”
In the latest trend, IRS impersonators are demanding payments on iTunes and other gift cards. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill by putting money on any form of gift card is a clear indication of a scam.
Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:
•Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.” See IR-2016-81.
•Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other type of gift card
•Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals. See IR-2016-34.
•“Verifying” tax return information over the phone. See IR-2016-40.
•Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry. See IR-2016-28
Since these bogus calls can take many forms and scammers are constantly changing their strategies, knowing the telltale signs is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
- If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
AND NOW – Part II: The letter scam – ‘Send the money now!’
Latest tax scam arrives as fake snail-mailed IRS letters
Tax identity thieves are quick studies.
They’ve been listening to the Internal Revenue Service warn us that the tax agency will not send e-mails or call us to discuss tax problems. Instead, notes the IRS, it always contacts taxpayers first via old-fashioned snail-mailed letters.
So that’s what tax crooks now are doing, too.
Evolving tax scams: I first heard of this tactic last month at a seminar about tax identity theft during the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum in Denver. One of my fellow attendees mentioned that a client had received an official looking letter ostensibly from the IRS about a purported overdue tax bill.
Luckily for that taxpayer, he took the document to his tax professional instead of following the directions to send the money straight to the crook.
The IRS has confirmed that the tax scams have evolved.
For almost two years, crooks have been running the largest tax scam ever. Posing as IRS agents, they call taxpayers and threaten them with jail time if they don’t quickly send the criminals pre-paid debit cards to cover the fake tax bills.
Now that folks are getting wise to that scheme, crooks are following real IRS protocol and mailing or faxing falsified forms.
“Taxpayers need to know that scammers have started sending fake documents to trick people into sending money or ‘verifying’ their personal information,” said Luis D. Garcia, a spokesman with the IRS’ Detroit office.
So add your traditional mail box to the list of locations to be on guard for when it comes to tax crooks.
Imitating real IRS correspondence: Tweaking official IRS material and documents is a long-standing technique used by tax scam artists and crooks.
The reason for the continuing, evolving criminal effort? It pays.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 600,000 contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of nearly 4,000 victims who have collectively reported over $20 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.
However, real letters from the IRS, even those about amounts the agency says you owe, do not demand that you send it or its agents payments via specific methods such as pre-debit cards. And initial written notices from the IRS also give you time to respond to or rebut the agency’s request for additional tax payment.
“We continue to see these aggressive tax scams across the country,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Scam artists specialize in being deceptive and fooling people. The IRS urges taxpayers to be extra cautious and think twice before answering suspicious phone calls, emails or letters.”
When it comes to official letters, the IRS has hundreds that criminals could imitate. Samples of the actual letters are not shown on the IRS website, but it does list the documents’ official numerical designations. [Maybe they should change that. Just sayin’.]
The first listed letter is CP01, which just happens to be what the IRS sends taxpayers who are identity theft victims who have verified their identity to the IRS. This letter lets the taxpayer know that his or her account will be monitored to prevent future fraudulent activity.
Call if you have questions: If you do you receive correspondence, written or electronic, that looks suspicious and was designed to appear as though it came from the IRS, let the agency know by calling 1-800-829-1040.
If the letter is real, the IRS will let you know and provide guidance on the next, legitimate steps you need to take. And if it’s fake, the IRS wants to know that, too, so it can track where this latest tax scam is spreading.
Hope this helps you save a friend or family member from losing to scammers!