The scams that accompany tax season are as predictable as, well, taxes themselves.
The Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers to be on guard against a dozen scams this year, including one of the most effective and intimidating methods: aggressive and threatening phone calls in which criminals impersonate IRS employees.
The agency says it has seen a surge in this type of fraud, with scammers using threats of arrest, deportation and more to coerce consumers into sending money and providing key personal data, among other things.
"We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you're not hearing from us," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement.
The IRS warning coincides with findings from Experian that show Americans are increasingly aware of, and worried about, tax-related fraud. In a recent survey, the credit-reporting agency found that 42 percent of respondents are concerned that personal information used on tax forms could be compromised.
Despite the findings, Experian noted that only a mere 6 percent of those using personal computers to file their income taxes do so on a device with up-to-date antivirus software, which could prevent so-called phishing scams.
The IRS annually compiles a "dirty dozen" list of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any time, but peak at this time of year. Since October 2013, the IRS said it is aware of 5,000 victims who have paid more than $26 million as the result of such scams.
Don't be one of them. The IRS offers these tips to help keep you and your identity safe this tax-filing season.
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- 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.
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
What should you do if you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money?
If you don't owe taxes or have no reason to think you do, don't give out any information and hang up immediately. Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their "IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting" Web page. You can also call (800) 366-4484.
By contrast, if you know you owe money or think you may owe tax, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040.
You can also report a suspicious call to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the "FTC Complaint Assistant" on FTC.gov, and lease add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.