By Bonita Wilborn
In the past scammers have resorted to scare tactics to cheat people out of their hard earned money by calling residents pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and telling the person on the phone that they owe the IRS large sums of money and if they don’t pay it off immediately they’ll be taken to jail, or something similar to that. Then they give the person the option of paying that amount, or at least a portion of it, immediately by bankcard or credit card.
The IRS jumped right on it and got the information out to people that any such call was a scam because the IRS will not call demanding immediate payment or threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement, but they will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. If you do owe taxes, the IRS will instruct taxpayers to make payments to the “United States Treasury”. Unfortunately, the scammers have countered that with a new twist to the same old scam. If people no longer fall for the phone call bit, then perhaps they’ll fall for the same thing in the form of a letter.
According to the IRS, the letter might look official, but it is not. They say that thieves will often change their tactics to get information and money from consumers.
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Each year, the IRS mails millions of notices and letters to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. If you receive correspondence from the IRS the first thing is Don’t Panic! If you have kept your taxes paid up you should already know that any letter stating that you owe a large sum of money couldn’t be correct. You can usually deal with a notice simply by responding to it. If it is a fake, then the IRS will certainly tell you that it is.
According to the IRS, most of their notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts. Each notice has specific instructions, so read your notice carefully because it will tell you what you need to do. Your notice will likely be about changes to your account, taxes you owe or a payment request. However, your notice may ask you for more information about a specific issue. If so, it will most likely be an issue that you and the IRS are both already aware of.
If your notice says that the IRS changed or corrected your tax return, review the information and compare it with your original return. If you agree with the notice, you usually don’t need to reply unless it gives you other instructions or you need to make a payment. However, if you don’t agree with the notice, you need to respond. Write a letter that explains why you disagree, and include information and documents you want the IRS to consider. Mail your response with the contact stub at the bottom of the notice to the address on the contact stub. Allow at least 30 days for a response.
For most notices, you won’t need to call or visit a walk-in center. If you have questions, call the phone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. Or better still a number that you could find on the website: IRS.gov. Be sure to have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call.
Always keep copies of any notices you receive with your tax records.
Be alert for tax scams. The IRS does send letters and notices by mail, but they do not contact people by email or social media to ask for personal or financial information. If you owe taxes, you have several payment options. The IRS won’t demand that you pay a certain way, such as prepaid debit or credit card.
For more on this topic, visit IRS.gov. Click on the link “Responding to a Notice” at the bottom center of the home page. Also, see Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms at any time.
If you need to make a payment visit IRS.gov/payments or use the IRS2Go app to make payment with Direct Pay for free, or by debit or credit card through an approved payment processor for a fee.
Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS; your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and IRS obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.
If you should receive a letter from the IRS, that looks official, be sure to check it out before you proceed to any form of payment.
There is also a recent surge in email, phishing, and malware schemes. Phishing (as in “fishing for information”) is a scam where fraudsters send e-mail messages to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to steal the victims’ identity.
The IRS has issued several alerts about the fraudulent use of the IRS name or logo by scammers trying to gain access to consumers’ financial information to steal their identity and assets.
Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes may seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts, and verifying PIN information.
Be alert to bogus emails that appear to come from your tax professional, requesting information for an IRS form. IRS doesn’t require Life Insurance and Annuity updates from taxpayers or a tax professional. Beware of this scam.
Variations can be seen via text messages. The IRS is aware of email phishing scams that include links to bogus web sites intended to mirror the official IRS web site. These emails contain the direction “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately.” These emails are not from the IRS.
The sites may ask for information used to file false tax returns or they may carry malware, which can infect computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.
For more details, see:
• Consumer Alert: IRS Warns Taxpayers, Tax Pros of New Email Scam Targeting Hotmail Users
• IRS Warns Seniors to Beware of Calls by Criminals Impersonating the IRS
• Phishing Remains on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2017 Filing Season
Unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or from a related component such as EFTPS, should be reported to the IRS at email@example.com.
To report tax-related illegal activities, refer to the IRS chart explaining the types of activity and the appropriate forms or other methods to use. You should also report instances of IRS-related phishing attempts and fraud to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administartion at 800-366-4484.