The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has reported an unusually high rate of tax crimes being committed this year and has warned taxpayers to watch out for themselves. IRS officials said the scammers are on a look out for personal information of the taxpayer, including account numbers, and that these scams can affect anyone. The top tax scams to watch out for this year are identity theft, telephone scams and phishing.
Officials said that they have repeatedly alerted taxpayers that the best way to protect themselves is to understand how the IRS operates so that if any scammer does try to target them, they will be on the look out.
Identity theft is posing to be the most threatening problem as nearly $4 billion in fraudulent tax refunds have been issued to thieves over the previous year according to a government report released late last year. Identity theft also witnessed a 66 percent rise in 2013 as almost 1,500 criminal investigations related to identity theft were opened. This week, the Justice Department announced that 880 people have been charged but the identity theft issue has by no means been curbed.
Meanwhile, just yesterday, the IRS said that they have commenced over 200 investigations for fraudulent refund claims. The IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, has said that IRS has improved its computer filters to flag suspicious returns, including those that seem to go repeatedly to the same address.
According to Attorney General Eric Holder, these scammers are anybody from tax return agents, the local barber, a school teacher, to identity brokers who sell personal information to gangs and drug dealers for a sum of money. Unfortunately, the fraud cases are so widely spread out all over the US that it is “difficult” for the law enforcement agencies to successfully stop them.
Since identity theft is the top tax scam to watch out for this year, the government has issued a series of steps for taxpayers to protect themselves, as follows:
– Avoid carrying the Social Security card or documents that show the Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
– Provide the Social Security number to a business only when required and it is extremely important for a transaction to move forward. Do NOT provide the SSN just because a business asks for it. Question the need for it.
– Check the credit report every 12 months.
– Secure personal information at home and do not leave it out in the open for anyone to steal/copy easily.
– Protect personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for internet accounts.
– Avoid giving personal information over the phone, through the mail or online unless the person on the other end is known.
Furthermore, if anyone believes that their personal information may have been stolen, they can report it to the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490, extension 245. Taxpayers who think they might be an identity theft victim can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission online at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338.
The telephone scam is another worry as more than 20,000 scam calls have been reported with the IRS with losses going into more than a million dollars. The scammer pretends to be with the IRS and threatens jail time or deportation unless a certain amount of money is paid to off-set “unpaid dues.”
The IRS has warned tax payers that a genuine IRS agent would never demand payment over the phone and neither would they threaten on a phone. The IRS has warned people to be cautious before giving out bank account details over the phone. It also said that people should demand the IRS agent’s badge number, full name and telephone numbers if they feel suspicious of the call. Or better still, just hang up the call.
The agency said they someone believes they have been scammed, they should notify the IRS authorities immediately, including the local police. Victims can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
Meanwhile, the latest in taxes scamming — and which is on the rise — is phishing. The scammer sends an email, which mostly appears to be from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service. An accompanying message in the email would say the tax payer has had some document errors, which need rectification. The email is usually accompanied by a link to a fake website that solicits personal information, and thereby, leads to the top scams of all – identity theft.
IRS has said that while the Taxpayer Advocate Service is an actual service, they never contact people on the social media or text or email people directly. Taxpayers who get these messages should, understand that this is one of the tax scams to watch out for this year and therefore, not respond to the email or click on the links. Instead, they should forward the scam emails to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Faryal Najeeb