ALBANY — With tax filing time arriving, the Internal Revenue Service is urging taxpayers to get started early and be on the lookout for potential scams.
While many in the country are beginning to get their tax returns prepared and filed, the IRS says criminals are hard at work trying to take advantage of citizens with a variety of tax schemes.
According to Mark Green, media relations specialist for Georgia and South Carolina, the latest tactic being employed throughout the country and now the Southeast, involves scam artists posing as IRS representatives and contacting unwitting taxpayers by phone in an attempt to collect a bogus IRS debt.
Green said when victims receive the calls they are told they owe money to the IRS and that it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victims refuse to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license.
“The scammers call people at random and pose as the IRS,” Green said. “They use bullying tactics and threats to catch people off guard so they will cooperate. The new twist is when they call a person it actually shows up as the IRS on caller ID.”
Green went on to add that in addition to the number showing up as IRS on the caller ID, the scammers use fake names and badge numbers and can sometimes even recite the last four digits of a person’s social security number to add validity to the call.
Even more disconcerting, Green said, when people initially don’t cooperate, the scam artists will call the person back from a different number and pose as the local sheriff or police department and tell the victim they are working with the IRS to arrest anyone who doesn’t pay their debt.
The scam artists typically target the elderly, immigrants and young people with limited experience dealing with the IRS in hope of catching them off guard and improve their chances of success, said Green. Often those receiving the initial calls simply hang up, but after receiving multiple calls, some people will comply and fall prey to the scam.
“Victims, unfortunately have fallen into the trap,” Green said. “Most hang up, but some don’t. It has already happened in Georgia.”
To help taxpayers avoid becoming victims of the telephone scam, Green and the IRS offered some important tips which include never giving out sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card numbers, over the phone.
“The IRS does not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” said Green. “The message is, the IRS doesn’t solicit by mail, telephone, text or email for credit card info, bank account numbers or social security numbers.”
Green encourages anyone who receives such a call to simply hang up and then report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484.
“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrests, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” said Green. “Don’t let yourself get involved in a tax scam or be bullied by a con artist.”
Green also added that anyone who owes back taxes or even suspects they may owe back taxes should contact the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040 to set up proper payment arrangements.
In addition to the telephone scam, Green said taxpayers should also be wary of other types of schemes using the IRS as a lure, such as solicitations for debt relief or lottery sweepstakes scams. Again, Green said, people need to be wary of any contact asking for sensitive information.
“The common denominator in a lot of these scams is they need something from you,” Green said. “When the IRS contacts you it is typically by mail and we don’t ask for information.”
Green said taxpayers should also do some research before hiring someone to prepare their taxes for them. Green said there were a lot of disreputable people charging unnecessarily large fees to prepare people’s taxes and also tricking clients into directing their refund checks into the tax-preparer’s bank account.
“If you’re planning to use a tax-preparer, choose wisely,” Green said. “All tax-preparers have to have a tax ID and must be registered with the IRS. No tax-preparer should be accepting or have the taxpayer deposit money into their account.”
One way to avoid this, Green said, was for taxpayers to use the IRS free file service online which will help people prepare and file their taxes. Free filing information can be obtained at IRS.gov/freefile.