For many of us, the annual rite of preparing a tax return and paying taxes can be stressful enough by itself, but in recent years, opportunistic criminals have been making it more stressful by coming up with new tax scams – or continuing to perpetrate tried-and-true ones. Some are directly related to the filing of a tax return, while others merely capitalize on taxpayers’ enhanced anxiety during the filing season. In both situations, there can be serious consequences for both the victim and the IRS when scammers succeed.
The IRS has released a list of its “Dirty Dozen” tax scams to avoid for 2015, among which are the following:
- Phone Scams: Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remains an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent months as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation, and other things. The IRS reminds taxpayers to be alert for con games that arise during the filing season.
- Phishing: Taxpayers should be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will not send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS that takes you by surprise. Taxpayers should always be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information.
- Identity Theft: Taxpayers should pay particular attention to any signs of identity theft around tax time, and refrain from giving out their Social Security numbers to anyone without a legitimate need. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue the criminals that file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number.
- Return Preparer Fraud: Taxpayers should be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service. But there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft, and other scams that harm taxpayers. Return preparers are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. More than half of all taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns.
The IRS is taking steps both to make it more difficult for perpetrators to successfully file falsified returns using others’ personal information (prevention) and to increase the penalties on perpetrators who are caught (deterrence). As the voice of the taxpayer, I am trying to focus the IRS’s victim assistance on those who find themselves impacted by tax scams. I am pleased to report that the IRS has made some improvements to victim assistance in recent years. For example, victims who substantiate their identity and address will be issued an Identity Protection PIN. This unique number must be used in conjunction with the victim’s SSN in future years; the IRS will reject returns filed without this IP PIN to protect taxpayers from being victimized again.
If you are a victim of identity theft and believe your federal tax account has been compromised, please click http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/get-help/identity-theft to learn what steps you should take to report the incident to the IRS. If you are experiencing economic harm or are not satisfied with the assistance provided by the IRS, I urge you to contact your Local Taxpayer Advocate (click http://www.irs.gov/Advocate/Local-Taxpayer-Advocate for a full list of TAS office locations).
Sign up for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork to get the latest information on ID theft and scams. You can also call the Fraud Watch Network Hotline at 1-877-908-3360 to get your questions answered directly from trained volunteers. And for free help with filing taxes safely, visit AARP Foundation Tax Aide program at www.aarp.org/TaxAide.