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Protect yourself from IRS scams

Date posted:  5/6/16 09:00:00 AM

During tax season, criminals take advantage of the financial environment by posing as the IRS to collect money from unsuspecting tax payers. Knowing how to identify a scam and how to protect yourself will help you avoid financial issues down the road.

Why the IRS 
According to the Tax Defense Network, one reason criminals pose as an IRS agent is because it provides them with power over the victim. Individuals often feel nervous and will even pay money they are told they owe after submitting taxes.

"They say, 'We've reviewed your tax return, you owe money, you've got to pay up now.' The nature of the IRS scam seems to become more intimidating in recent weeks, more threatening if you don't do this right now, you'll be arrested.," noted Charlie Mattingly, president in Louisville of the Better Business Bureau.

Out of panic, tax payers share personal information and even send money. The best way to combat this scam is to educate yourself and to know what to look out for.

Be wary of aggressive or prying phone calls 
According to the IRS, criminals who impersonate IRS agents tend to become aggressive and may even threaten consumers over the phone. If an alleged agent calls and begin to threaten you with immediate arrest, hang up the phone, do not answer it if the number calls again, and contact the IRS to report the scam. 

Oftentimes these individuals will request personal information to "verify" the details they have to process a tax refund. This is a recent tactic change many scammers have started implementing. Only communicate with the IRS if you initiate the call or visit the actual physical office yourself. 

Just a few bits of your personal information can be used to  steal your identity and open new lines of credit, which may damage your credit history if not caught and dealt with. If you receive any phone calls that are unusual or give you cause for concern, check and monitor your credit score regularly to potentially catch any irregularities. 

The IRS is on your side 
Fortunately, you are not battling IRS scam artists alone. The IRS works diligently every year to keep tax payers informed when it comes to new tactics and approaches. According to a recent press release, the IRS encourages all tax payers to keep personal information guarded during this time of year. 

"These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, according to the press release."Don't be fooled. The IRS won't be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment."

To ensure you are not tricked, the IRS guarantees it will never call and demand an immediate payment over a phone without first mailing multiple bills indicating you owe money. In addition, the IRS will always provide you with an opportunity to question or appeal the amount of taxes you owe.

There is also no instance that would require you to provide personal or financial information to verify your identity, and an IRS agent will never threaten to arrest you over the phone for not complying.

Unfortunately, scammers may further intimidate you if you refuse to pay them. In some instances, a criminal may even have another member of their fraud team pose as a police officer to make the threats seem more authentic. Do not waver. Hang up the phone  and contact the IRS to report the fraudulent call as soon as you can. . 

Know what to do 
If you receive a threatening phone call or email requesting your personal information, hang up right away or delete the messages. You should report the scamming incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as soon as possible. By doing this, you can help protect other individuals because the IRS will use information you provide to update tax payers with new tactics and methods used by these criminals. 

You can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission —, just make sure to add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes section when you file the report. 

Reach out to the IRS 
If you aren't sure if you owe money this tax season, contact the IRS directly at 800.829.1040. These dedicated professionals can help you determine your taxes owed, and even help you  figure out a payment plan. Never assume someone calling you or sending an email is the person you should be paying your taxes to. Even if you believe you owe taxes this year, reaching out to the IRS yourself is the safest course of action. 

Tax season can be a very stressful time of year and the possibility of fraudulent activity can add to that stress. Inform yourself of the types of scams and know the steps to take if you receive a suspicious phone call or email.

You can find additional online resources about information security by visiting the UMB Security and Privacy page.