Summer is a time to relax, spend time by the pool and forget reality for a bit. Forget your stress, forget making school lunches for the kids, forget the cold. However, there is one thing you should not forget. Criminals and scammers don’t take summers off, so don’t let your guard down in the midst of summer; keep an eye out for IRS phone scams.
While these scammers target many different types of people, they notoriously try to take advantage of generous taxpayers who want to help disaster victims. This is particularly important to keep in mind during the summer months, when hurricane season peaks.
According to The Weather Channel, the Atlantic hurricane season takes place from June until November. Since scams often pop up after a hurricane, it is important to be especially vigilant during this time.
But how can you recognize potential identity theft?
How do these scams begin?
Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact, either in person or by telephone, social media or email. Scammers can do this in a number of different ways. These include:
- Impersonating charities to gain money or private information.
- Creating fake websites with names similar to legitimate charities in order to trick people into sending money or providing personal financial information.
- Operating bogus charities and soliciting money or financial information by telephone or email.
Before donating to a charity, do your research to ensure the organization is legitimate. Several online resources like the IRS Nonprofit Charities Database, Charity Navigator and GuideStar can help you gather information about various charities.
How do I identify IRS phone scams?
Since summertime is a period when thieves increase their scams, start by being wary when providing personal information and financial data. It never hurts to be overly cautious.
Additionally, keep in mind that the IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury. Taxpayers should never make checks out to third parties.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Use email, text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.
If someone asks you for any of these things, you are likely the victim of an identity theft scheme.
What do I do next?
If you do not owe taxes and believe you are being scammed, you can follow these steps to protect your information and stop the scammer from tricking others.
- Refrain from giving out your information and hang up immediately.
- Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call or email.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org to report the scam in writing.
- If you are a disaster victim and you’re worried about these scams, call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance hotline at 866-562-5227. Phone assistors will answer questions about tax relief and disaster-related tax issues.
Lastly, don’t let these scams ruin your summer—you now know how to keep yourself safe from these identity theft threats. If you have any more questions about these IRS scams or their implications, please contact the accounting professionals at HBP today.
Written by Norma Hill; Tax Supervisor.