It's that time of year when everyone wants your money — especially criminals. Yes, tax season is once again in full swing, and the deadline is fast approaching.
It's not just the same ol' tricks anymore, either.
Those crooks are getting even more clever, and now the IRS has a warning about a new twist you need to be on the lookout for. We'll tell you about the new spin on the old scam, and give you the tips you need to know to keep your money safe.
Dirty tax scams and phishing
We've told you about variations of those fake IRS calls, where callers try to trick you into giving up your info. They'll pretend to be an IRS employee, even some type of federal agent or law enforcement officer and will demand you pay non-existent overdue taxes immediately using wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift cards. Right, the government wants to be paid in gift cards. And if you don't pay up, scammers say they'll come to your house and arrest you.
On the flip side, someone pretending to be from the IRS will call you and sound like your best friend. They'll say you're entitled to a big refund, you just have to hand over some of your personal info first.
Now there's a new spin. Impersonators are calling, saying they're from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), which is an independent organization within the IRS. They'll even spoof the number from TAS offices in Houston and Brooklyn. It could be a person or a robocall asking for a callback, but either way, those scammers will also be asking for your personal info, which includes your Social Security number of individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).
Here's the thing — the real TAS exists to help you resolve an IRS-related problem. But you call them, not the other way around.
Spotting the scammers
There are definite signs and red flags that can identify a scammer, no matter how real they sound. Here's what you need to lookout for:
- Scammers will identify themselves using fake names and IRS badge numbers
- They might even know the last four digits of your Social Security number
- It's not hard for scammers to spoof numbers to look like any agency they please
- Fake emails might accompany the phishing calls
- They might even go as far to fake background noises of other calls so it'll sound like a real call center.
- The IRS says crooks might threaten to put you in jail or revoke your driver's license and then in some cases, they'll hang up. That'll be followed with a call from someone pretending to be from another agency, like local police or the DMV, to give more weight to the initial threat. Again, Caller ID will probably say the same thing, but don't fall for it.
The IRS says they'll never call you demanding immediate payment. And the big red, glowing, neon flag I mentioned earlier is that government agencies don't ask people to pay with gift cards. That's the easiest tell. If you do owe money to the real IRS, you'll get a bill in the mail.
How to protect yourself
There are some easy ways to make sure you don't become the victim of one of these scams. First of all, the real IRS also doesn't threaten to have you arrested, nor do they call about a bonus refund you're entitled to. And they certainly don't ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
If you get a call from one of these scammers, never give out your personal information and hang up immediately. If they sense hesitation and think they've got you on the hook, they might keep calling back to convince you that they're real.
You can report those calls to email@example.com. Put "IRS Phone Scam" in the subject line. You can also contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, to report the call, using their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting page. The Federal Trade Commission is another option. Just use the "FTC Complaint Assistant" on FTC.gov, and add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes. You can also call the IRS at 800-366-4484.
The IRS also keeps an updated list of tax scams and consumer alerts on their website. Check that out by clicking here.
Microsoft also has some advice to avoid tax scams. In a recent advisory, they said there was an average of 300,000 phishing attempts across their browsers. Keep in mind, that's just Internet Explorer or Edge. Just think what that number would be when you factor in other popular browsers like Google Chrome.
If you're a Windows 10 user, Microsoft says don't just rely on passwords and when possible, use multi-factor authentication. A lot of modern Windows-based laptops can also come equipped with "Windows Hello" face or fingerprint ID.
Watch out for suspicious-looking emails, too, especially those that say they're your bank or another financial institution. Don't download any attachments, and don't click on included links.
Each year, the IRS puts together a list of the "dirty dozen," or the most popular scams to look out for each year. Take a look at the video, and learn more at their website.
And don't forget, the tax deadline is on April 15.
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