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As tax season approaches, tax scams targeting doctors once again spike. Here are some basic tips for protecting yourself from criminals and the IRS.
Tax scams take many forms including mail, phone, e-mail and now even social media and texting. Phone calls and e-mail still seem to make up the bulk of the scam attempts, so make sure you've reviewed the basic computer security tips I've previously provided as your first line of defense.
The IRS wants taxpayers to be alert for e-mail scams that use the IRS name. They take many forms: Some demand payments while others promise refunds or request information on you or a payment you've made in the past. They want your name, social security number, bank account numbers, and other identifying details they need to accomplish anything from printing fake checks to taking control of your checking account or even filing a false tax return and collecting a refund in your name.
The IRS has explicitly stated that they will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, texting, or any social media. Forward scam e-mails to email@example.com. Do not open any attachments or click on any links in suspect e-mails. Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as lottery sweepstakes winners) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
Fake phone calls
There is a scam currently operating (just one of many) that involves several callers including an initial "agent" and then an angry "supervisor" who call and demand immediate payment to avoid threats ranging from arrest to deportation. They have scammed people in every state and continue to operate from a variety of area codes (many calls use numbers with Washington D.C. and Virginia area codes). I actually asked a number of people who received these calls in the past to send me the phone numbers; they were all from the same three numbers and by simply entering the numbers in Google, I brought up many identical fraud complaints.
According to J. Russell George, the treasury inspector general of the Tax Administration, this scam has already taken $14 million from the thousands of taxpayers who have actually reported it; many likely have not. George cautions that the scam continues to grow, "It is critical that all taxpayers continue to be wary of unsolicited telephone calls from individuals claiming to be IRS employees. This scam, which is international in nature, has proven to be the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive, they are relentless, and they are ruthless," he said. "Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash."
According to the IRS website and various government press releases, the IRS usually first contacts people by mail - not by phone - about unpaid taxes. And the IRS won't ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won't ask for a credit card number over the phone.
The callers who commit this fraud often:
• Utilize an automated robocall machine
• Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers
• May know the last four digits of the victim's Social Security number
• Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling
• Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam
• Call a second or third time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles (caller ID supports their claim)
Reporting scam attempts
The IRS itself provides substantial guidance on these issues and even has a form you can complete on line if you've already been defrauded.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here's what to do:
• If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
• If you don't owe taxes, fill out the "IRS Impersonation scam" form on TIGTA's website, or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
• You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.
Many of these scams target older people, those that may be newer to the United States, or simply less experienced with computers or tax filing procedures. Watch out for your friends and family who may fall into any of those categories and share this with them.