With the deadline for filing state and federal income taxes on the horizon, it’s not just tax preparers who are working overtime. The scammers are, too.
Telephone scams sometimes flow with the seasons, and tax time is when callers posing as Internal Revenue Service agents are dialing up potential victims to “warn” them they are going to be audited if they don’t promptly pay a fee. In one case last week, the Better Business Bureau reported a person was contacted by phone by an “IRS agent” and pressured to send $9,000 in gift cards to prevent a tax audit.
Most of the complaints the Better Business Bureau receives are made without the person who received the call falling for the ploy. But there’s no way to know how many victims don’t report being taken in by callers who warn of tax audits, utilities being shut off, overdue bills that must be paid promptly, or the promise of a big lottery payoff — if only the person receiving the call pays a “service charge” up front.
The IRS is candid about the fact scammers frequently claim to be from the agency to trick people out of their money or personal information. Scammers try to scare their victims, to pressure them to submit and make hasty decisions without taking the time they should take to determine the caller is a fraud. Scammers sometimes call the same person again and again, leaving “urgent” callback requests through robo-calling mechanisms. They might already have a victim’s name, address and some personal information, which makes them sound more official. But those details are readily available through public records or internet searches. You don’t need to be from the government to learn a lot about an individual taxpayer.
It used to be that older people were the ones targeted by telephone scams. Then, according to the IRS, scammers started targeting new immigrants to the U.S. and people who spoke English as a second language. And now? Everyone is fair game, every age and every state.
It’s important to know that the IRS doesn’t call taxpayers to warn them about being audited.
The IRS says it won’t call to demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe. The IRS would never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. It won’t require you pay a certain way, such as with a prepaid debit card. And the IRS doesn’t threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest taxpayers for not paying.
In other words, if someone calls claiming they are from the IRS, hang up and report this to your local police.
In general, the best way to deal with suspicious calls of any type is to hang up. Never give private or financial information over the phone. Never agree to send money, checks, gift cards or anything else to a stranger who calls. Never agree to wire money to someone you don’t know.
With tax day approaching it is important to be alert if someone calls, using the IRS as the lure. But tax scams can happen at any time and to anyone. Phone scams take many forms, and scammers are always coming up with new angles to separate people from their money.
There are many internet resources available to learn more about how telephone scammers work, what kinds of scams they use and how to educate and equip yourself to recognize and cut off scammers.
Hanging up on someone you don’t know, claiming to be from law enforcement or a government agency and demanding some kind of response, is not impolite. It’s being smart. For information about what kinds of scams are out there and how to guard against them, go online:
The Better Business Bureau, www.bbb.org.