Just because your tax return has been filed and any refund may have already been spent or tucked away in savings, that doesn’t mean thieves are done trying to get their hands on your data or your cash. This is the time of year when identity thieves are on the prowl, playing up your fears or insecurities in order to take advantage of you.
One of the top tax fraud threats at this time of year is phishing, or initiating contact with you in some way that will lead you to hand over your personally identifiable information. Thieves typically do this either through emails or phone calls. Now that email scams are so common and consumers are a little more aware of this approach, some criminals are turning to phone scams.
It works like this: the scammers call you from a phone number that has been set up to actually look like the IRS on your caller ID. In very official-sounding language, the caller begins to tell you that you didn’t pay enough in taxes, claiming that you owe far more than your return indicated. Once the scary news that you haven’t paid your taxes is out there, the caller then explains what you must do about it.
The steps they provide will involve either sending money from a prepaid debit card—as those are not easily traced to the payer, unlike your bank account which would trace back to the recipient—or by wiring money directly to the account that the caller will provide.
The really upsetting thing about this scam is that the caller may actually have the last four digits of your Social Security number. Once you receive a call from someone who knows your name, your phone number, and part of your SSN, it’s logical to believe that this is a legitimate phone call.
But it’s not. The thieves are playing up your fears of facing stiff penalties, fines, and even jail time for failure to adequately report your income and pay your taxes. In fact, victims of these phone calls have even reported being threatened by the caller, who outlines exactly how severe the penalty will be for not sending the money immediately.
The emails are just as crafty. Many of them look credible, and they may even include a link that leads to a very official-looking website, complete with images of the IRS seal. Of course, the fact that the website is phony and the images of the seals were cut and pasted from the real IRS website isn’t going to be foremost in your mind as you’re faced with the consequences of failure to pay your taxes.
The most important thing you can remember is that the IRS will never—repeat, never—call you to demand payment. It will also never email you to demand payment. All correspondence of that type will be in paper form, mailed to the address on file with the IRS. There are a couple of reasons why thieves don’t just mail you a bogus letter, most of which involve the upfront expense of creating and mailing these, as well as the additional felony charges for committing fraud through the postal system.
If you do receive a bogus email or phone call, don’t fall for it. Hang up on a phone caller immediately and do not provide any of your information. If it’s possible that you do owe money to the IRS, call them at 800-829-1040 to resolve the issue, but if you know that your tax return was in order, it’s a good idea to report the attempted theft by calling 800-366-4484. If you received an email, you can forward it to the IRS’s scam discovery team at phishing@IRS.gov. These steps will help alert the IRS to the criminal activity and let them stay on top of the potential for tax fraud.
The Identity Theft Resource Center, is a California-based non-profit corporation that operates a no-cost, toll-free victim assistance call center (1-888-400-5530) to aid consumers nationwide.