Beware of IRS Tax Scams This Season
Tax season is just around the corner, but one particular tax scam may end up costing some elderly residents more than just what they owe for their tax bill.
Financial scams to look out for in 2017 are IRS scams that trick, or scare, people into giving up large sums of money. According to the National Council on Aging:
“Scammers know that taxes strike fear in the hearts of men and women. Exploiting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) name and function is one way that scammers have been able to get people to open their wallets.”
Here’s how the scams work: You receive a call, allegedly from the IRS, claiming that you owe back taxes. The call may come from a Washington, DC area code (202), which is where the IRS is located, so it looks more legitimate. According to the IRS, “These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers.”
In a warning to residents, the Maine Office of the Attorney General, said that if you disagree, the caller “typically become(s) rude and belligerent. They will threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or other legal action to pressure you to pay them right away by providing them with your bank account information, or send them money via wire transfer or a reloadable card.”
Alternatively, you may receive an automated call with an “urgent” callback request. Kelly Phillips Erb, in a Forbes article, gave a real example of the message that she received:
“Hello, this call is officially a final notice from IRS, Internal Revenue Service is filing lawsuit against you. To get more information about this case file, please call immediately on our department number 260-216-1206. I repeat 260-216-1206. Thank you.”
The IRS warned about these calls last year, and dozens of people were arrested in connection with the scams, but the scams continue. One woman recounted last month in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer how her elderly father was bilked out of $400,000 over two years by scammers pretending to be IRS agents.
Local Phone Scam Warning
It happens here, too. Just last week the Bedford Police Department warned residents in a Facebook post of ongoing phone scams, saying that over the past month they have received multiple reports from residents about elaborate phone scams; in one of them, a resident was called by scammers impersonating the IRS, and demanding payment via wire transfer. They threatened arrest should the money not be sent.
“Residents should always take the time to verify where and to whom their money is being sent,” Chief Bryfonski said. “Never conduct a wire transfer if you are not completely confident that the funds are for a legitimate purpose and will reach their intended source. If a relative or friend supposedly needs money, make sure to talk specifically to them so you do not fall prey to these increasingly elaborate scams. Anytime you receive a call and you are concerned or in doubt about the truthfulness of the call, you should immediately contact the Bedford Police Department.
“If a victim gives away a pre-paid debit card number, or makes a wire transfer or money order, the money is gone and lost forever, and there is usually no way to recover those funds,” he said.
People who commit fraud may target older people because they are perceived as being more vulnerable. Loneliness, trust and memory loss can contribute to the ease with which the elderly can fall victim to fraud.
The IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages, or social media to discuss your personal tax issue. It’s important to know, or make your aging loved one aware of how to know, whether you, or they, are dealing with the real IRS or a scammer. The IRS offers examples of things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
- 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.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
What You Can Do
Everyone is vulnerable to phone scams and people of all ages will likely get a call at some point from a scammer. If you get a suspicious call, hang up immediately; don’t engage the caller and don’t return the call. Then take one or more of the following actions, per the IRS:
- If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at tigta.gov.
- You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Impostor Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
The New Hampshire Consumer Partnership notes that instead of a call, you might receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be the IRS or directing you to an IRS site. They advise:
- Do not reply to the message.
- Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
- Do not click on any links. If you clicked on links in a suspicious e-mail or phishing website and entered confidential information, visit the IRS website and enter the search term 'identity theft' for more information and resources to help.