We’re in the height of tax season again. In addition to the general grumbling about having to pay the IRS, there’s a growing fear, and one more thing to worry about. The hacking and scamming community, ever-growing in number and the sophistication of their game, have upped their attacks significantly this year.
Of course, scammers pretending to be someone else (including the IRS) is nothing new, but there seems to be a disturbing upward trend in the number of such attempts. So much so, that the IRS has actually released a formal statement, warning tax payers against attempts by scammers to get their personal information.
These attacks take various forms, but the end result is always the same. Whether via phone or email, fairly quickly in the communication with the phony IRS agent, you will be asked for various bits of personal information.
Sometimes, the scammers will ask you to “verify” the information contained on your W-2 form. Other times, you’ll get an ominous, if not outright threatening phone call, indicating that you’re the target of an IRS investigation, with instructions to call a number the voice on the other end provides you. Of course, when you call, you’ll be asked for to “verify” your social security number, and possibly even hand out credit card or other payment information so that the imaginary dispute can be settled quickly and painlessly.
In all of these cases, what the scam artists are interested in is personal information they can resell, or direct access to a credit or debit card, so they can max out your line of credit or drain your checking or savings account.
Most of the time, these kinds of scams succeed because the scammers apply immense pressure on the person they’re calling to respond and provide the requested information immediately, and of course, in a panic, fearing reprisals from the IRS, all too often, this tactic succeeds. However, per the IRS’s memo on the subject, you should know that the IRS will never demand immediate access to information, nor will they demand on the spot payments over the phone. That’s just not how they operate, and this is a sure sign that someone is attempting to scam you. The IRS also stresses that it’s against their policy to ask for credit or debit card information over the phone.
You can read more about what the IRS will, and will not do here, but the bottom line is this:
If you get an email or phone call from someone who says they’re with the IRS, you should hang up the moment they begin asking for personal or payment information. If you get an email, no matter how official it appears to be, again, if it is asking for any kind of personal or payment information, you should simply delete it without responding. Even an innocent response on your part to gain more information or a better understanding of what they’re asking of you is an engagement, and the moment you begin engaging these scammers in conversation, you’re playing their game.
Remember that the IRS will ALWAYS allow you to appeal any decision where they conclude that money is owed, which is ultimately how you can spot a scam artist from a real IRS agent. The scam artist will always try to get you to pay up immediately, while the IRS agent’s first move would be to tell you about the appeals process. Also, it is against IRS policy to initiate contact with a tax payer via email, which is another red flag.
Nobody’s ever really excited about the prospect of having to pay a hefty tax bill, but don’t make matters worse by falling for one of the many IRS/Tax scams making the rounds this year. Too often, too many people wind up losing a lot of money in a well-meaning attempt to do the right thing. This is actually what the scammers are hoping for. They’re preying on your fear of the agency, and your desire to ultimately do the right thing, and they’ll use both against you if you give them half a chance.
If you’re not content to just delete these scammy emails or phone calls, and want to fight back, here’s how. In the case of a suspicious email you receive, forward it to [email protected] and let the authorities investigate. If you get a phone call, ask for the employee’s name, badge number, and call back number. Then call 1-800-366-4484 and give that information to the agent you speak to. This will confirm that you are, in fact, speaking with a legitimate agent of the IRS.