Tax time is here again with the filing season in full swing, but the US Government isn’t the only group interested in taking a bite out of your earnings. Large numbers of scammers are dreaming up new ways to exploit taxpayers by posing as members of the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to steal not only money, but the victim’s personal and banking information as well.
There are many ways the con artists will try to fool their victims. Here are three tactics and some of the scams they have used in the past.
We’ve said it before and will sadly have to keep repeating it – with new technologies come new avenues for the bad guys to exploit. The internet is still a fertile ground for these types of frauds. Taxpayers looking to file online should take extra care.
As recently as 2007 the IRS was investigating claims of websites claiming to be members of the Free Filing program, but were actually scam sites. The sites operated as other, legitimate free filing sites by walking taxpayers through the proper forms to be filled out and then forwarded them into the IRS.
Unlike the IRS-approved sites, these con artists stand accused of changing the banking information on the victim’s forms to their own so that all refunds were directly forwarded to the companies’ bank account.
If you would like to file online be sure to do so through the Internal Revenue Service’s Website. A link to their free filing page can be found at the end of the article. For states that also offer free filing, you should check with website of your state tax bureau.
These are tried-and-true frauds that have been around for decades, but don’t get caught with your guard down just because they haven’t been in the news lately. Reports of scammers posing as IRS representatives via unsolicited phone calls are still quite common. Two scams have been noted by the IRS in recent years.
– The caller claims to be from the IRS. They inform the victim that they are entitled to a rebate due to early tax filing. In order to proceed with the direct deposit of the substantial rebate, the caller requests the victim’s bank information. The scammer pressures the taxpayer further by staunchly asserting that the IRS is only distributing the rebate via direct deposit. If the victim refuses to share the banking information, the rebate will be forfeited according to the fraudster.
The IRS points out that there is currently no legislation, nor any pending, which grants rebates for filing early. In addition, direct deposit is never a requirement for getting back a refund. If a taxpayer would like to opt for direct deposit, they should complete the appropriate section of their tax return during filing.
– The victim receives a call from a scammer posing as an IRS agent. The “agent” says they are following up with the taxpayer because a refund check had been sent by the IRS but they show it has never cashed. They then ask the potential victim for their banking information in order to verify whether or not the check was actually received. With this claim of verification come promises of the check being re-sent.
If the IRS sends out a rebate check and said check is not cashed or deposited in a timely fashion, the government doesn’t particularly care. They certainly aren’t going to track down and follow up any and all unclaimed checks in order to send them out back again. They’d rather keep the money.
The IRS tends to carry out most of its business via the post office. Don’t expect any phone calls from the IRS offering to make payments or looking to verify information. These are both relatively unprecedented pieces of business and, if they ever were necessary, would not be conducted over the telephone.
Phishing is the scammer’s way of stealing your personal information- bank account numbers, credit card numbers, even social security numbers-via email. The unsolicited email is the bait, and appears to be from the IRS. You are the target and they want you to bite on the link the email provides.
If you follow the link, the page appears legitimate, but is actually a well-crafted fake. Once you are there, the scammers will have you fill out forms in order to steal your information. Another danger is that you will be sent to an unprotected site designed to infect your computer with malware. This dangerous computer virus grants the crooks access to your private files or gives them the ability to spy on any business you conduct online.
Just last month, the IRS asked taxpayers to be aware of several very specific email scams that pose an immediate risk. Often they are quite legit-looking, some claiming to come from the Exempt Organizations department of the IRS and still others contain the name and signature of a bogus IRS executive.
Here are the specific scams mentioned.
– Refund Scam: This is the most prevalent of bogus phishing scams. The email tells the victim they are due a specific refund amount, often using the specific phrase, “last annual calculations of your fiscal activity.
– Online survey: This survey which claims to be for the IRS records and promises to pay the taker requires the entry of personal and financial information.
– Investigation/Audit: Some emails claim the potential victim is under investigation or part of an audit.
– Recovery-related tax provisions: In the past, the stimulus package was exploited in these types of scams. Now they use programs such as the Making Work Pay program to entice potential victims.
– Underreported income: The IRS is asking taxpayers to be wary of an email scam which references underreported income and the recipient’s “tax payment”. This is a bogus email that is proven to download dangerous malware to the victim’s computer if the link is followed.
The Beneficial Owner’s Form scam is a fax-based scam targeting foreign nationals by sending them a bogus form via fax which is based on the genuine article. The fake document is often just the original form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding with the name and number altered by the scammer.
Scare-tactics come in the form of threats of additional taxes or penalties if the form is not filled out and faxed back immediately. The information provided is quite detailed, including Social Security numbers, banking information, passport numbers and even information used for security questions such as mother’s maiden name. The truth is the real W-8BEN form is completed by banks, not individuals.
Whether you owe the government or have a refund coming back, money will be changing hands for most citizens this tax season. Let’s work together to stay alert and make sure the money flow bypasses the scammers and con artists who are looking for a piece of the action.
IRS page for Free Filing Online