Criminals don't take vacations. They're always scheming to steal your money. Here's what you need to know this season.
I'm known for saying there are 3 certainties in life: death, taxes and change. Perhaps I should add a 4th-- scams. Whenever there is money, there are unscrupulous people who try to steal it from you. Even though the tax season is over for most Americans, scammers aren't taking a vacation. In fact, these fraudsters seem to be upping their game while many of us are trying to relax. Don't let your guard down.
The common denominator is fear and intimidation.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says, "Many of these are variations of a theme, involving fictitious tax bills and demands to pay by purchasing and transferring information involving a gift card or iTunes card." In this column, I previously warned about a scam linked to these type of cards but apparently this year, criminals have added a new twist.
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1. EFTPS Scam -- The new scam is linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), which is a real thing. The fraudulent caller claims to be from the IRS and demands immediate tax payment, saying that two certified letters mailed to the taxpayer were returned as undeliverable.
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The scammer then threatens arrest if a payment isn't made immediately to a specific prepaid debit card. You've probably guessed that the card isn't linked to the legitimate federal tax payment system. The biggest red flag is that victims are warned not to talk to their tax preparer, attorney or the local IRS office until after the payment is made.
2. Charitable Giving Scam-- The Federal Trade Commission let us know about imposters claiming to be with the FTC, or another agency like the fictitious "Consumer Protection Agency." In this one, you get a call saying you've won a huge sweepstakes from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a well-known charity for very ill children.
To get the money, the caller says the "winner" must first pay thousands of dollars to cover taxes or insurance on the prize. The call may even come from a 202 (Washington, D.C.) area code to appear credible--since the headquarters for the FTC and most federal agencies are in D.C. Big red flag-- you should never have to pay to win any prize.
3. Private Debt Collection Scam - This summer, we're also seeing scammers posing as private collection firms. This is another tricky one because the criminals prey on taxpayers who really do owe back taxes. The IRS legitimately began a new private collection program of certain overdue federal tax debts, assigned to four contractors.
As you can imagine, fraudulent debt collectors are jumping on this one. Here's how the real program works:
The IRS will give taxpayers written notice that the accounts are being transferred to the private collection agencies.
The agencies will send a second letter confirming this transfer.
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Private collection agencies will be able to identify themselves as contractors of the IRS collecting taxes. You can access the real list here.
These authorized firms will only be calling about a tax debt the person has had-- and has been aware of-- for years. The IRS would have previously contacted you about this debt. Remember, these agencies won't ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. They won't threaten to bring in the cops or other law-enforcement groups or demand that taxes be paid without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount owed.
For anyone who doesn't owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:
Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately!
Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call 800-366-4484.
Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov and add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
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Call the number on the billing notice, or the IRS at 800-829-1040.
A competent tax advisor can also help you determine what's real and what's not. Fear and intimidation should always be a red flag and it doesn't hurt to have a pro in your corner.