It’s IRS Impersonation Scam Season

This is the time of year when a lot of people have recently filed their taxes, are in the process of filing their taxes, or are planning to do so soon. Which also means peak IRS Impersonation Scam season is upon us.

Here are some ways to stay safe.

First, remember that the IRS is not going to call or email you about past due taxes. If yours really are overdue, you will be notified by postal mail.

The IRS does not demand immediate payment, then threaten taxpayers with immediate arrest. In other words, the IRS doesn’t contact you out of the blue to say “pay now or the local police will be at your door in one hour.” While actual tax fraud is a crime and will land you in jail, that process has a lot of steps and takes quite some time. It’s not a matter of a single afternoon. Also, if the IRS says you owe back taxes, you’re allowed to appeal or question the amount; it’s not “because we said so, no questions, pay now or go to jail.”

The IRS does not accept payment by wire transfer, nor does it accept CashApp, Venmo, PayPal, Bitcoin or gift card. All of these methods are used by scammers because they’re not very traceable, and very irreversible.

The IRS won’t threaten to “suspend” or “cancel” your Social Security Number. This threat makes zero sense, but scammers sometimes use it to frighten potential victims into paying.

While these tips are specific to the IRS and the tax system in general, they really serve as a reminder to never take any strange caller or unexpected email at face value. Anyone attempting to make you afraid, then asking for money or personal information, should be met with extreme suspicion.

Tax Season Scams

Everyone’s favorite time of the year is coming up soon, so to protect yourself from scammers and identity thieves, here are a few quick tips to remember:

  1. The IRS is never going to initiate contact via email. Ever. Even if you filed your taxes online. If there is a problem with your filing, they will contact you via telephone or postal mail.
  2. If the IRS does contact you, they are never going to ask you to “verify” personal information such as your Social Security number, account information, credit card numbers or anything else. They’re the IRS; they already know what they need to know about you.
  3. If you do get a phone call, don’t automatically trust what pops up on caller ID, since this information can be easily spoofed. If they’re asking to verify personal information, it’s probably someone trying to steal your identity.
  4. On a similar note, beware of phone calls at strange times. The IRS isn’t going to call at 1 AM or 11 PM.
  5. If you’re paying someone to prepare your tax return for you, make sure you’re dealing with someone you trust and who knows what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter who prepares your taxes, you are ultimately responsible for what gets filed.
  6. Also beware of tax preparers who make wild claims about how big of a tax return they can obtain for you.
  7. Finally, a lot of large, nationwide tax preparation companies advertise a “service” in which they write you a check before your taxes are even prepared or filed, based on an estimate of what you will receive. While this is not a “scam,” know that these advances are loans, which you will have to pay back with interest. If they give you more than you get back from the IRS, the excess will come out of your pocket.

Like I’ve said before, just about anything can be turned into a scam. The best defense is to be prepared by knowing what to watch out for.

Lastly, If you do get a suspicious email, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Don’t open any attachments, and don’t click on any links contained in the message. These could infect your computer with spyware or other malicious software.