How to Recognize Tax Scammers
It's tax season, and scammers are working overtime to get your money. Tax scams are as varied as they are common, but when you know what to look for, you can beat fraudsters at their game and keep them from getting your money and your information.
If you hear or see any of the following 12 lines this tax season, you know you're dealing with a scammer:
1. "We're calling from the IRS to inform you that your identity has been stolen and you need to buy gift cards to fix it."
If your identity has indeed been stolen, no amount of purchased gift cards will get it back. Unfortunately, there is also no way to reclaim funds that are lost through this kind of scam.
2. "You owe tax money. We'll have to arrest you, unless you purchase iTunes gift cards."
Yes, this really happened. A 20-year-old college student was tricked into putting $500 onto three separate iTunes cards and $262 on a fourth, when she received a call from an "IRS agent," USA Today reports. As unbelievable as it sounds, when threatened with arrest, people will believe or do almost anything.
In this ruse, the scammer will make sure to get the access numbers of the iTunes card, which gives them easy and untraceable access to cash.
3. "If you don't pay your tax bill now, we'll cancel your Social Security number."
Your Social Security number cannot be canceled, suspended, frozen or blocked.
"If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up," the IRS says.
4. "We're calling you about a tax bill you've never heard about before."
The IRS will never initiate contact about an overdue tax bill by phone; they will first reach out by mail.
5. "This is the Bureau of Tax Enforcement. We're putting a lien or levy on your assets."
The Bureau of Tax Enforcement does not exist. If you receive a call from this, or a similar bogus agency, hang up.
6. "This is a pre-recorded message from the IRS. If you don't call us back, you'll be arrested."
The IRS does not leave pre-recorded voicemails, especially those claiming to be urgent and/or threatening.
7. "You must make an immediate payment over the phone, using our chosen method."
The IRS says that its agents will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. If you hear this, you'll know you're talking to a scammer.
8. "Click here for more details about your tax refund."
The IRS will never send emails with information about tax refunds. Emails worded like this will lead the victim to an IRS-lookalike site that is actually created by scammers. Clicking on the link will load the victim's device with malware.
9. "We represent the Taxpayer Advocate Service and we need some information."
Although the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is a legitimate organization within the IRS to assist taxpayers, representatives of the TAS don't call individuals out of the blue. The TAS also will not ask taxpayers to share sensitive information, such as their Social Security number, over the phone.
10. "You owe the federal student tax."
The federal student tax is yet another invention of tireless scammers. It does not exist, and if you receive a call about it, you're being targeted by a scammer.
11. "This is an SMS/social media post from the IRS. We need more information."
The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers, or ask for sensitive information, via text message or social media.
12. "We don't need to sign your tax return even though we prepared it."
A legitimate tax preparer must sign your tax return and will have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). If a tax preparer is reluctant to sign yours, or to share their PTIN, you are likely dealing with a scammer.
If you've been targeted by any of these tax scams, you can fight back by reporting the scam to the proper authorities. Phishing emails that appear to be from the IRS can be forwarded to email@example.com. Alert the FTC about IRS phone scams and report Social Security Administration phone impostor scams on the Social Security Administration's website.