PHOENIX, Arizona — The Internal Revenue Service issued a filing season alert warning taxpayers to watch out for identity theft and phone scams at tax time, which are some of the year’s Dirty Dozen tax scams.
“We remain dedicated to stopping tax-related identity theft and protecting taxpayers, and we are making important progress on that front. Taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid becoming a victim,” said John Koskinen, IRS Commissioner.
The Dirty Dozen is compiled annually by the IRS and lists a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so.
This year for the first time, the IRS will issue the individual Dirty Dozen scams from Jan. 22-Feb. 6 to raise consumer awareness. The news releases will be available on the IRS website each day.
Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain near the top of the annual Dirty Dozen list of tax scams for the 2015 filing season.
The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent months as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.
“If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don’t pay immediately, it’s a scam artist calling,” said Koskinen. “The first IRS contact with taxpayers is usually through the mail. Taxpayers have rights, and this is not how we do business.”
Scammers are able to alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave urgent callback requests. They prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. Scammers have been known to impersonate agents from IRS Criminal Investigation as well.
“These criminals try to scare and shock you into providing personal financial information on the spot while you are off guard,” Koskinen said. “Don’t be taken in and don’t engage these people over the phone.”
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received reports of roughly 290,000 contacts since October 2013 and has become aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million as a result of the scam, in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards.
As telephone scams continue across the country, the IRS recently put out a new YouTube video with a renewed warning to taxpayers not to be fooled by imposters posing as tax agency representatives. The new Tax Scams video describes some basic tips to help protect taxpayers from tax scams.
The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
- 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 by phone at 1-800-366-4484 or online.
- If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their online FTC Complaint Assistant at the Federal Trade Commission website. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
The IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds.
Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest, as well as possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice, also known as DOJ, to shutdown cams and prosecute the criminals behind them. Taxpayers should remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax returns even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task.
“We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues,” Koskinen said. “Taxpayers should protect their computers and only give out their Social Security numbers when absolutely necessary.”
As a result of these aggressive efforts to combat identity theft from 2011 through October 2014, the IRS has stopped 19 million suspicious returns and protected over $63 billion in fraudulent refunds.
For 2015, the IRS will continue to increase both the number and efficiency of the identity theft data models and filters that are used to identify potentially fraudulent returns. These pre-refund filters stop the vast majority of fraudulent returns. Additionally, the IRS continues to expand its partnerships with financial institutions to identity and stop fraudulent refunds.
IRS Criminal Investigation continues its robust efforts, and in Fiscal Year 2014, the IRS initiated 1,063 identity theft-related investigations. Criminal Investigation enforcement efforts resulted in 748 sentencings as compared to 438 in FY 2013, an increase of 75 percent. Our incarceration rate rose to 87.7 percent as compared to 80.6 percent in FY 2013. The courts imposed significant jail time with the average months to serve in FY 2014 at 43 months as compared to 38 months in FY 2013 with the longest sentencing being 27 years.
In an effort to help victims, the IRS has issued approximately 1.5 million Identity Protection PINs, also referred to as IP PINs. The IP PIN is a unique, six-digit number that is assigned annually to victims of identity theft with resolved cases for use when filing their federal tax return. The IP PIN will allow these individuals to avoid delays in filing returns and receiving refunds.
This year, the IRS will continue its IP PIN pilot program that allows taxpayers who filed tax returns last year from Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia to opt into the IP PIN program. Additionally, the IRS is offering approximately 1.7 million taxpayers the opportunity to opt in to the IP PIN program in instances where the IRS has identified indications of identity theft on their accounts.
The IRS understands that identity theft is a frustrating, complex process for victims. While identity thieves steal information from sources outside the tax system, the IRS is often the first to inform a victim that identity theft has occurred. The IRS is working hard to resolve identity theft cases as quickly as possible.
The IRS offers the following tips as ways to protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
- Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
- Protect your financial information.
- Check your credit report every 12 months.
- Review your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually.
- Secure personal information in your home.
- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.
- IRS website | YouTube | Tumblr
- To report a scam, go to the IRS website and type “scam” in the search box
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