by Vee Daniel, President and CEO, Better Business Bureau of the Upstate
The tax filing deadline has come and gone and now tax refund season is upon us. Every year, the IRS issues its list of the dirty dozen worst tax scams. These scams appear online, by email and in person. In some cases, taxpayers can’t even trust their tax preparers. Just because you have filed your return does not mean you can let down your guard.
If you become a victim of a scam you can also find yourself in real trouble with the IRS. After the tax con artist has compromised your personal data and taken some, if not all, of your tax refund, you could face significant penalties and interest for not filing a proper tax return or not paying what you legally owe.
Here is a list of five of the top tax tricks for 2015 based on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list. Pay attention so you do not become a tax scam victim:
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 guard against all sorts of con games that arise during any filing season.
Taxpayers need to 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 be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information.
Taxpayers need to watch out for identity theft especially around tax time. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue the criminals that file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. The IRS is making progress on this front but taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid becoming a victim.
Return Preparer Fraud:
Taxpayers need to 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 hurt taxpayers. Check them out carefully.
Taxpayers should be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations.
Caregivers and family members can take some steps and identify red flags to help protect themselves and others from scam artists and fraud, according to the Better Business Bureau. These include:
• The IRS states unless you initiate the call, it will never:
– Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying.
– Call demanding immediate payment for taxes owed without having first mailed you an official notice.
– Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
– Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
• Get involved with seniors’ financial decisions as much as possible, especially when managing personal finances has become a burden.
• Never give out personal banking information, credit card numbers or social security numbers to someone who has called. Popular scams include promising information on new health miracle product, a charitable donation, or confirmation of a sweepstakes.
• If someone calls from a “government agency” requesting money, ask for a certified letter on an official letterhead.
• Visit the homes of elderly relatives and neighbors regularly. Ask about phone calls they’ve received (con artists tend to develop relationships with their lonely victims and prey on their need for conversation.).
• Put your phone number and your senior family members on the National Do Not Call registry by phoning 1.888.382.1222 or visiting www.donotcall.gov (this will help to limit phone calls from telemarketers.)
• Fraud against older Americans is a serious problem affecting thousands every year. These tips can help prevent you or your loved ones from falling victim to tax and other financial scams.