Beware These 6 Phony IRS Calls and Emails

By Paul Michael on 25 January 2017 0 comments

It's 2017. Most people aren't really thinking of filing taxes just yet, but they are starting to collect the information needed to file by the April deadline. That means the scammers are out in force again, ready to trick millions into submitting personal information, or to make payments that will go into the pockets of thieves.

These six scams are the biggest offenders, and once again, they'll be used widely this year. Watch out for them.

1. The "You've Got a Refund" Email

Who doesn't love getting money back from the IRS? When you get this one in your inbox, you could certainly be fooled into thinking it's legitimate. Unlike many of the phishing emails, it appears to have decent grammar, it's well formatted, and it has something of an official look to it. What's more, the refund isn't huge. If it had stated you were getting many thousands back, you may pause for thought. But a small sum, under $100, is less likely to trigger alarm bells. It all seems legit. But, it's not. And by clicking the link in the email, you are going to a fraudulent site designed to collect personal and banking information.

As the IRS clearly states on its website, it will never initiate contact with taxpayers over email, text messages, or social media channels. The main contact is snail mail, and while you may get actual calls, they will be easy to verify (more on that later).

Do not look at the "from" email address, either. These can be simulated to look like they have come from an official agency. Look at the link address in the email; this will definitely be going to a site that tries to look official, but isn't, such as www.irs-gov.com/refund. The bottom line: Any kind of "you've got a refund" email from the IRS is a scam, and should be reported to them immediately.

2. The "The Bill Was Lost in the Mail" Call

If you receive a call from the IRS saying you owe money, it's a scam. That's just a hard fact. The IRS clearly states on its website that it will never call you if you owe taxes, without first sending you a bill in the mail. Of course, thieves are getting wise to this being common knowledge, and are now saying that the bill must have gotten lost in the mail.

At this point, you may well be put into a world of self-doubt; and that's when the scammer jumps on the opportunity. They hear the hesitation in your voice, and start alarming you. They will say that as the bill has been long overdue, you are now in serious trouble. You have to pay the back taxes immediately or risk going to jail. It's at this point that many people become so scared that they pay up. This is all a con, and you can easily verify this.

For starters, a real IRS agent will not ask for money over the phone. If this is the request, hang up. They also will not threaten you with arrest or deportation. You can also ask for their IRS badge number and call back number. The scammer will hang up on you.

3. The "Affordable Care Act" Email

One of the downsides of the Affordable Care Act is that it is still quite new, and therefore, has many unknowns. There is even a page on the IRS website dedicated to the intricacies surrounding the new health care law; and that is perfect fodder for a scammer. Where there is doubt, there is a chance to profit.

The scam will come as an email (and in some rare cases, a letter) alerting you to something called a CP2000 notice. It's worth noting that this is, in fact, a real type of notice. But in this case, it's completely fake. The big giveaway is that it is issued from an Austin, Texas address, with a phony payment voucher number called a 105C.

The scam uses language designed to scare you into paying the bill, and here's another huge red flag — the check should be made payable to "I.R.S." at an Austin Processing Center address. If you receive anything like this via email, forward it to the IRS. They are currently investigating this nasty scam.

4. The "Please Verify Your Tax Information" Call

Not all IRS scams are designed for immediate profit. This one is designed to harvest your personal information, which can then be used for identity theft, or to actually grab a refund owed to you before you even claim it. In 2013, the IRS paid out over $5.8 billion in stolen tax refunds, and the problem is not going away.

As the scammer is not asking you to pay a bill, it can feel much less threatening. The fake agent will be very polite, and will say that the IRS needs to verify some information on a tax return you previously filed. They may even have some personal information that makes it sound like they have your file right there in front of them. But, the information they really want, like your SSN or bank details, will not be available.

Questions will start out simple: "I have your name as John S. Doe, could you spell that please?" But this will quickly lead to "And could you verify your social security number for me?" At this point, the scammer won't have anything to work with, and is hoping you simply parrot back the response.

Remember, the IRS will not call you asking for this kind of information. If you do have an issue with a former return, you will get an official notice in the mail, asking for the information to be verified. And if you doubt that, call the IRS directly.

5. The "IRS Taxpayer Advocate" Email

In 2014, the IRS warned of a new scam that was designed to solicit personal information, leading to identity theft and stolen tax refunds. This is known as the "IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service," and comes complete with a legitimate-looking case number, and language designed to grab sensitive personal and financial information.

The email, which comes with a "from" address designed to look real, tells you that a former tax return you filed was flagged for review due to a document processing error. Once again, you will always be notified of any problems like this via regular mail, not email.

The email will then say that you must click on a link to submit the missing or erroneous information, which will expedite the filing of the return to avoid any fees or charges. Of course, that link leads to a page hosted by the scammer, designed to collect and abuse your information.

6. The "Federal Student Tax" Call

A new tax scam surfaced last year, and it sadly tricked a few unsuspecting people into handing over iTunes gift cards, W-2 information, or tax return data. If that sounds a bit obvious, it's all done in a way that makes it feel legitimate.

The scammer will call a student and tell them that they owe "Federal Student Tax," which must be paid immediately. There's no such thing as the Federal Student Tax. It's a complete fabrication.

However, the scammers have become much more sophisticated. For example, they are using caller ID spoofing to make the call look like it is coming from an official government line. Plus, information made available on the dark web can give them all sorts of information about the student's background. Together with a very professional sounding "agent," this can all work to convince the student the tax must be paid. And often, they request the money in the form of gift cards, which is another huge red flag. Again, the IRS won't call and ask for money. If this is happening to you, or someone you know, tell them to hang up and report the incident to the IRS.

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