Nothing can be certain, the old saying goes, except for death and taxes. An updated version, for modern times, may add phone scams.
Tax-filing season is now underway, and the IRS and other consumer protection agencies and organizations are urging taxpayers to file as early as possible to avoid becoming a victim of Tax identity theft. Taxpayer ID theft occurs when a fraudulent return is filed without your knowledge, using your name. The resulting refund is sent to the scammer impersonating you, and you won't find out until you try to file your return.
Tax ID Theft is one tax scam, but there are many others. In a recent alert, the Internal Revenue Service describes a new twist on an old Social Security imposter scam in which a scammer threatens to suspend or cancel the target's Social Security Number.
"If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up," the IRS says. "Make no mistake, it's a scam."
Imposter scams often target a quick payout by pressuring their victim to obtain gift cards and share the card numbers over the phone, but tax ID theft may lead to a bigger "score" for scammers. Data breaches arm criminals with much of the information they need to file false returns. When they don't have enough personal information to file a return they often call the intended victim pretending to be with the IRS or another government agency trying to verify information.
The FCC and IRS warn that you should not provide personal information to someone who calls you. Always hang up and independently verify the number before calling back. Keep in mind the IRS does not make outgoing calls from its toll-free numbers. If you see a toll-free number identified as the IRS on your caller ID, it's a spoofed call.
What to Watch Out For
The IRS advises taxpayers that the agency never:
- Calls to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gifts card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
- Asks a taxpayer to make a payment to a person or organization other than the U.S. Treasury.
- Threatens to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demands taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
What You Can Do
The IRS offers the following advice for taxpayers who believe they have been targeted by a phone scam:
- Report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
- Report the caller ID and callback number to the IRS by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The taxpayer should write "IRS Phone Scam" in the subject line.
- Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission. When reporting it, they should add "IRS Phone Scam" in the notes.
You should also file a complaint about phone scams with the FCC. Read the FCC Complaint Center FAQ to learn more about the FCC's informal complaint process, including how to file a complaint and what happens after a complaint is filed.