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Apr 19

Tax Scams: What to Look For and How to Avoid Them

by Mike Antonacci

As another tax season comes to a close, we wanted to draw attention to a number of scams and schemes to defraud unsuspecting taxpayers. We think it is important that our clients be aware of how these scams work, and what precautions you can take to protect yourself.

How the Scams Work:

One popular method for defrauding taxpayers is to steal their identity using “phishing” techniques, or malware to obtain their victim’s personal information. Phishing scams use fake emails or website links designed to appear to be legitimate. Once accessed, these fake links will either ask for information or potentially even infect your computer with software allowing the fraudsters to access personal information.

Recently, identity thieves have used this stolen information to file fake tax returns, but use the taxpayer’s actual bank account to deposit the fraudulent refund. Once the refund has been deposited, they will call the taxpayer posing as an IRS agent, debt collector, or law enforcement and demand that the refund be returned.

Taxpayers who receive the refunds should follow the steps outlined by Tax Topic Number 161 – Returning an Erroneous Refund. The tax topic contains full details, including mailing addresses should there be a need to return paper checks. By law, interest may accrue on erroneous refunds.

Telephone scams are another popular way criminals look to defraud taxpayers. These scams involve callers contacting taxpayers claiming to be IRS representatives. The victims are told that they owe the IRS money and that the amount must be paid immediately using either a gift card or wire transfer. Callers posing as the IRS will often become hostile or insulting, and threaten the victims with arrest, suspension of a business or driver’s license, or even deportation if they do not pay. If the phone is not answered, the thieves may leave an urgent callback message.

Scammers do not just operate during tax season. Thieves posing as IRS agents have targeted parents and students during the summer and back-to-school months, by calling and demanding payment of a fake “Federal Student Tax,” or some variation thereof. Just like in the telephone scams previously discussed, these callers will demand payment via gift card or wire transfer, and will threaten to report the student to the police to be arrested if payment is not made.

These are just a few of the most popular scams thieves have engaged in to attempt to defraud innocent taxpayers, and new techniques and tactics are being developed all the time. With that said you can protect yourself by taking the following precautions.

Know What the IRS Will Not Do – The IRS will never:

Know What the IRS Will Do:

Know Whom to Contact:

The bottom line is that if you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS, DO NOT give out sensitive information over the phone or via email. If the call does not feel right, hang up and contact the IRS at 800-829-1040, or your advisor.

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