Tax season is among us, and while taxpayers are busy preparing their taxes, they must also remain vigilant in protecting their personal information and finances from scammers. Scammers are especially active during this time, impersonating IRS agents, other government employees, or debt collectors online, over the phone, or via the mail to trick you into sending money for taxes, fees, or penalties that you don't actually owe. So that you don't fall victim to fraud, we're sharing a few examples of IRS scams and tips to help you recognize and avoid tax related scams.
Email Phishing Scams
- "We recalculated your tax refund and you need to fill out this form"
This type of email scam displays the IRS logo and uses subject lines like "Tax Refund Payment" or "Recalculation of your tax refund payment". In the email, you're prompted to click a link that opens a fake form requesting personal information like your Social Security number (SSN), birthday, address, driver's license number, etc. Filling out and submitting the form will allegedly allow you to claim your refund.
- "Click here to see details about your tax refund"
This type of email scam is used to trick individuals into clicking on links that go to a fake IRS website which in turn exposes the user to malware. It's important to note that the IRS never emails taxpayers about the status of their tax refunds.
- "Click here to see your tax transcript"
This email scam involves fraudsters attaching what they claim is your tax transcript or a summary of your tax return. While tax transcripts are something that the IRS provides, they will not email tax transcripts. Tax transcripts can be requested directly from the IRS, which will then be mailed to you.
- "Take this FBI survey"
This email scam appears to be from the IRS or FBI, but when you click the link to take the "required" survey, ransomware is downloaded to your device and prevents you from accessing your data unless you pay off the scammers.
- "Your identity was stolen and you need to buy gift cards to fix it
This scheme involves fraudsters posing as an IRS agent who claims your identity has been stolen and used to open fake bank accounts. You are then advised to buy specific gift cards and provide the access numbers to the gift cards you purchased to the fraudster.
- "Your SSN is going to be canceled or suspended"
This IRS scam involves scammers claiming that your Social Security number will be canceled or suspended because of an unpaid tax bill.
- If you don't call us back, you'll be arrested... have your driver's license revoked... have your business licenses canceled... have your immigration status revoked..."
Fraudsters can make a caller ID phone number look like it's coming from anywhere or anyone — a technique also known as spoofing. While they pose as the IRS, local police, etc., they will leave pre-recorded voicemails that seem urgent and threatening. It's important to note that the IRS cannot revoke your driver's license, business licenses, or immigration status.
- "We're from the Taxpayer Advocate Service and are in need of some information"
While the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is a legitimate organization within the IRS that helps people get assistance with IRS problems, it does not call taxpayers for no reason. Fraudsters are spoofing government numbers like the TAS to contact unsuspecting individuals. They'll often claim that you are entitled to a large tax refund and ask you to provide personal information like your SSN.
Other IRS-Related Scams
- "This is the Bureau of Tax Enforcement, and we're putting a lien or levy on your assets"
This scam involves individuals receiving a letter from a fake agency — The Bureau of Tax Enforcement — claiming that they have a tax lien or tax levy and are instructed to pay the bureau or else.
- Scams claiming you owe "federal student tax" when there is no federal student tax
- Tax "preparers" who claim they don't need to sign your tax return even though they prepared it
Anyone that you pay to prepare your tax return must have a valid preparer tax identification number and they are also required to sign your tax return. If your tax "preparer" is reluctant to sign your return, it's a red flag that the person is what is known as a "ghost preparer" who just wants to charge you the fee and run.
There are a multitude of tax-related scams out there and new scams are constantly popping up. To help you stay informed of tax-related scams, the IRS provides examples of known tax-related scams on their website.
It's important to remember that the IRS will not initiate contact with you by email to request personal or financial information. Typically, the IRS contacts you by mailing paper bills or in special situations, will call or come to a home or business. Red flags to be on the lookout for are:
- Your initial point of contact is by phone
The IRS contacts taxpayers by mail first and does not initiate contact via a random phone call.
- They leave a pre-recorded voicemail
The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent, or threatening voicemails.
- You recieve an email
The IRS will not initiate contact with you by email to request personal or financial information. If you receive a suspicious email claiming to be from the IRS, do not reply to the message, open any attachments, or click on any link. It's also important to note that the IRS' website is IRS.gov and not IRS.com, IRS.net, IRS.org, etc.
- You receive a text message or are contacted via social media
The IRS does not initiate contact with you by text message or on social media platforms and will not request personal or financial information by text or on social media.
- The form they've sent or are making reference to does not appear on the IRS website
The IRS has names of IRS notices and letters on their website. If the type of notice you received isn't on the list, it's probably not legitimate.
- They don't know what an HSPD-12 card is or can't provide you with one
A legitimate IRS agent has two forms of identification — a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. You have the right to see these credentials and verify the information. You can verify the information on the HSPD-12 card by calling the IRS:
- You're asked to provide payment information over the phone
The IRS will not ask you to provide payment information like your credit card or debit card information over the phone.
- You're asked to pay with only gift cards or prepaid debit cards
The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. If you owe taxes, the IRS will mail you a paper bill. Additionally, payments should only ever be made out to the U.S. Treasury — not a collection agency or other entity.
- You are being threatened
The IRS has rules that it must follow when contacting taxpayers. They cannot revoke your driver's license, business licenses, or immigration status. The IRS also can't threaten to immediately bring in law enforcement. They must also give you the opportunity to question or appeal what they say you owe.
What you should do if...
- If you think that you may owe money to the IRS, check directly with the IRS on their website.
- If you receive tax-related suspicious online or email phishing scams, you should report them to the IRS by emailing email@example.com. Do not open the attachments; click on any links in those emails, personal messages, or text messages; or reply to the sender as it could put you at risk.
- If you receive a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or Treasury department, don't give out any information and hang up the phone immediately. You should also:
- If you suspect you're a victim of fraud or identity theft, let your credit union know. Give Members First Credit Union of Florida a call at (850) 434-2211 or visit a branch near you to speak with a financial service representative.
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