Here’s how to make sure you don’t fall for the latest tax scam

Summer’s here, but it’s still open season on vulnerable taxpayers; stay vigilant

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True or false: The time for IRS-relat­ed swin­dles and scams is behind us—until next tax sea­son. If you’re still read­ing this, you prob­a­bly guessed “false.” And yep, it’s sad but true: Those pesky swindlers are still at it.

Adam Levin, chair­man and co-founder of Credit.com and Cyber­Scout (for­mer­ly IDT911)

Nor­mal­ly, when sum­mer arrives with its parade of warm days and few­er demands on our atten­tion, there is a qui­et month or so when very lit­tle hap­pens in the way of IRS-relat­ed activ­i­ties (quar­ter­ly pay­ments being the only thing you might expect on a list of tax-relat­ed things to do). So, you should be safe from the cur­rent scam mak­ing the rounds—but you’re not. The IRS recent­ly issued a warn­ing about a scam that’s been lur­ing sum­mer­time tax-fraud vic­tims.

You know nev­er to respond to a phone call from the IRS, because—say it with me—they nev­er call. (The agency does have debt col­lec­tors rep­re­sent­ing them now, but you’ll receive sev­er­al notices before they call you, and you can expect to be con­tact­ed by one of four firms—CBE Group, Con­Serve, Per­for­mant and Pio­neer Cred­it Recovery—not an IRS agent, more on this below.) Well, this lat­est scam put a sad­dle on that old nag and has been tak­ing tax­pay­ers for a ride.

Here’s how: You get a call from the IRS telling you about offi­cial cor­re­spon­dence sent via snail mail—certified mail, no less. The let­ters were returned to the IRS as unde­liv­er­able. They tried to mail you the notice you need­ed. They have to call you.

So, what do you do? Hang up.

Seems plau­si­ble, but isn’t

The thing about these scams is that they always have the ring of truth to them. (Remem­ber, con man is short for con­fi­dence man.) If you stay on the phone, you will be informed that there was an issue with your tax return and you owe mon­ey that is extreme­ly late in get­ting where it’s sup­posed to be. You have to pay with a card that is con­nect­ed with the Elec­tron­ic Fed­er­al Tax Pay­ment Sys­tem (EFTPS). Sounds legit­i­mate, because the EFTPS is one of the ways you can pay your tax­es. That said, you can’t do it with a gift card or any oth­er kind of pre­paid card, which is what the scam requires to pay the fraud­ster. (You can also pay tax­es with cred­it cards, which you can learn about here.)

The IRS nev­er calls to bird-dog mon­ey, although there is one new excep­tion. Con­gress has man­dat­ed that the IRS hire col­lec­tion agen­cies to chase cer­tain extreme­ly delin­quent tax­pay­ers. If you receive such a call, get off the phone and con­tact the IRS direct­ly to ver­i­fy the sit­u­a­tion.

Also bear in mind that tax­pay­ers who owe the IRS mon­ey gen­er­al­ly know it. They have received mul­ti­ple notices, did not dis­pute the assess­ments, and/or did not make the pay­ments. If you get a sur­prise call ask­ing for mon­ey, be doubt­ful. (You can see how unpaid tax­es are impact­ing your cred­it by view­ing two of your cred­it scores for free on Credit.com.)

Can you scam-proof your­self?

In this par­tic­u­lar instance, you actu­al­ly can avoid get­ting got 100 per­cent of the time. It’s pret­ty sim­ple: Sim­ply hang up. But there is no way to absolute­ly scam-proof your­self.

There are more ways to get burned by tax scams than you can shake a beach umbrel­la at—bogus tax pre­par­ers, scam artists who file a tax return using your iden­ti­ty and steal the refund, sleaze­balls who promise huge tax refunds for an extra fee, which is noth­ing com­pared to the penal­ty you will pay after the IRS audits you.

My book Swiped: How to Pro­tect Your­self in a World Full of Scam­mers, Phish­ers, and Iden­ti­ty Thieves pro­vides count­less sto­ries about how cyber crim­i­nals lure vic­tims, but the best way to stay safe is to do what you’re doing now: Stay aware.

Full dis­clo­sure: Cyber­Scout spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to Credit.com and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its part­ners.

 

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?