Tax scams are a year-round phenomenon, but they can be more common during the summer. Most people have recently filed their tax return, so it's a logical time to try to "verify" a taxpayer's information or to claim that a miscalculation has resulted in additional tax liability.
Fortunately, the vast majority of tax scams are 100% avoidable if you know what to look for. With that in mind, the IRS recently issued a newsletter with five telltale signs of tax scams that all American taxpayers should know.
What type of tax scams are we talking about?
There are many different variations of tax scams, and they are constantly evolving. Having said that, there are some common scams that are seen over and over again.
One common scam involves trying to get taxpayers to "verify" sensitive information from their tax return, like their Social Security number or bank account information. A tax return contains virtually all the information an identity thief would need, so it's no wonder that it's a common target.
Another scam involves telling taxpayers that they owe additional tax that must be paid right away. The scammer may claim that there was a miscalculation on the return, or some back taxes are owed for whatever reason. This scam often involves a certain method of payment, such as sending the funds on a prepaid debit card.
There are many other scams, and there are many variations of each individual scam. Fortunately, by knowing what to look for, you can avoid most of them.
The five telltale signs that you're dealing with a scammer
In order to avoid most tax scams, it's important to know these five things the IRS will never do. Specifically, the IRS will never:
- Call you to demand that you pay any tax debt immediately or with a specific payment method. The IRS initiates contact with taxpayers by mailing a bill first, and you'll always have time to review and contest any legitimate IRS tax bill. Furthermore, the only place legitimate tax payments are made is to the U.S. Treasury.
- Threaten to have you arrested for nonpayment. Yes, people have gone to jail over tax evasion, but the IRS doesn't call the police over a simple outstanding tax bill.
- Ask for payment without giving you the opportunity to appeal or question how much you owe. This is one of the basic provisions of the taxpayer's "bill of rights" issued by the IRS.
- Ask you for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone. The IRS does accept credit and debit cards, but through payment processors listed on its website, irs.gov.
- Use email, texts, or social media to discuss your tax issues. The IRS generally communicates with taxpayers by mail. It won't just send you an email with a tax bill, nor will a legitimate IRS agent reach out to you via Facebook or Twitter.
If the individual or organization you're dealing with does any of these things, you can be pretty certain that you're being scammed. It's also worth noting that legitimate IRS websites begin with www.irs.gov, while scams often use variations of this, such as irsgov.com.
What to do if you think you're being targeted by scammers
Obviously, if you see any signs of a scam, you should hang up the phone or ignore the email or text you received. Don't give out any personal information.
You can report scam emails at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can report any scam (phone, email, or otherwise) to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as well as the Federal Trade Commission.
If you think the call or email might be legitimate, you're still better off calling the IRS directly or logging into irs.gov to view your actual tax information. This way, you'll be 100% certain that you're dealing with the correct authorities.