The IRS has given warning of two new tax scams where criminals are illegally taking money from people, pretending to be from government agencies. The first is rather worrying – a letter sent through the US Postal Service. The other are calls and emails purporting to be from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).
Let’s look at these scams and run over what you should do every time you have correspondence from the IRS.
Letter ‘from the IRS’
Letters with official-looking branding supposedly from the IRS are being sent to taxpayers now. According to Business Insider, “Earlier this summer, the IRS warned taxpayers about a popular scam in which fraudsters mail letters to taxpayers from a non-existent group called the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement” requesting immediate payments. Some letters even mention the IRS and may include factual tax information.”
The first thing is that the ‘Bureau of Tax Enforcement’ does not exist. Some letters have gone a step further, referring to some business that you may actually be doing with the IRS. Business Insider continued, “That’s scary for taxpayers because it feels legitimate, but keep in mind that some tax-related information, like liens that have been filed against taxpayers, may be available to the public.”
In using publicly-available dealings with the tax office, so these scammers have convinced a lot of people to respond and to pay the criminals instead of the US Treasury.
The next thing to note is that the IRS packages their correspondence in a certain way. You will find your tax number (ITIN) on the letter – not something that criminals have generally managed to do. There will also be references to your dealings and a guide showing you your rights as a taxpayer. The final thing is on the envelope itself – this will have the IRS seal on it that can’t be easily counterfeited.
Emails and calls ‘from the Taxpayer Advocate Service’
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent body set up to allow people to deal with the IRS without hiring lawyers. You may be in dispute with the IRS over unpaid taxes, or be in arrears with your payments when you call them.
That’s right – the TAS won’t call you in the first instance. You should call them.
According to the IRS, “In this most recent scam variation, callers “spoof” the telephone number of the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service office in Houston or Brooklyn. Calls may be ‘robo-calls’ that request a call back. Once the taxpayer returns the call, the con artist requests personal information, including Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).”
With these details the scammers can commit identity theft unless they are out to get your money directly in which case during the call they will make it plain that a payment will be the only way out of some fictional enforcement action.
What you should always do with contact from the IRS
In both the letter and phone scams you will generally asked to make payments to an unfamiliar payment system or cut a check addressed to an organisation you are not familiar with. All payments by check are to ‘U.S. Treasury’ and no other body. If you wish to make payments by card then go to this IRS webpage to look at the best option for you.
If you have correspondence or a phone call that doesn’t make sense to you, log on to the IRS tax portal and see for yourself. If you owe money it will say so. If you are in arrears it will say so.
Another way forward is to phone the IRS on 800-829-1040 to ask them about the correspondence you have received or contact IRS Tax Attorney. If it is a scam they will tell you.
The final thing to do is to help everyone out by reporting the scam attempt. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “IRS scam” and tell them the number, or show them the email or letter you have received that turns out to be bogus.
It’s never much fun dealing with the IRS but if you deal with it in the correct way you will only end up paying the money you owe and not a red cent to those criminals who want to steal it from you!