Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) puts out their “dirty dozen” list. This is a list of scams that are prevalent that the IRS wants everyone to watch out for. Let’s see what’s going on in scammer-town this year.
The scams fall into four main categories: pandemic-related scams; scams relating to personal information; schemes focusing on certain victims; and scams that persuade taxpayers into taking crooked actions.
Due to the pandemic, the government passed legislation that provided financial help to individuals and businesses. A scam can focus on stealing these payments. The IRS alerts taxpayers to watch out for mailbox theft of stimulus checks. The IRS reiterates that an IRS employee will not initiate contact via phone, email, or text asking for your social security number or other information in order to process stimulus checks.
Scammers have stolen identities and filed unemployment claims, the IRS says. These scammers have benefited from the bolstered unemployment benefits but the legitimate taxpayer is the one who may receive a Form 1099-G to report on their income tax return. If you received this form and you didn’t actually receive those unemployment benefits, you should contact the appropriate state agency for a corrected form.
Scams Related to Personal Information
Personal information (PI) is information that is used to identify you and thus could lead to a scammer impersonating you. PI includes your social security number, driver’s license number, banking information, passwords, and more.
The first scam related to PI that the IRS warns against is phishing. This involves the scammer sending you a communication that looks like it is from a legitimate source, like a government agency. You think you are dealing with the IRS but you are instead dealing with a ne’er-do-well. The scammer collects your PI and then is able to perpetrate fraud on your accounts. Or the scammer has a virus embedded in the communication that compromises the security of your computer or phone.
There are also scams related to social media. The scammer may open a social media account and pretend to be friend or family member in order to extract PI from you. Or the con artist could ask you for money due to an “emergency” or for a fake charity contribution.
Schemes Focusing on Certain Victims
With the pandemic, fraudsters have set up fake charities or disaster relief companies. Or they create bogus stories on social media about a fake family that has had it particularly rough due to COVID-19. These stories or charities pull at your heart strings. Before you give to a cause, do your research to make sure it is legitimate, and your funds will be used as you intend. Be wary of a charity asking for a donation via gift card or money wire.
Immigrants are the targets of some scammers. The con artist will impersonate a government employee and threaten deportation or jail if a sum is not paid. The IRS states that a legitimate IRS agent will not make these threats. Similarly, those with limited English-speaking capability are susceptible to phone scams. The Schedule LEP let’s a taxpayer request a change in their language preference so that they can more easily understand official IRS communications.
Scams that Persuade Taxpayers into Taking Crooked Actions
Scammers may offer big discounts for a “settlement” with the IRS, or say that they will file for certain relief programs, such as an Offer in Compromise. While relief programs do exist with the IRS and can prove very helpful for some taxpayers with IRS debt, you need to make sure you are dealing with a reputable company who will actually do legitimate work on your behalf. Look out for misleading advertising or deals that seem too good to be trusted. It might be worth contacting the IRS yourself first to see what options you have. There are many resources on the IRS’ website, including a questionnaire to see if you qualify for an Offer in Compromise. And, of course, the IRS offers its forms online.
Scammers are out there waiting to prey on the vulnerable and unsuspecting. The IRS warns to look out for any scam that requests payment via gift cards. Also, be aware that in most circumstances, the IRS will first communicate with you via mail. If the first contact is a phone call, be cautious. And the IRS will almost never send out communications to you via email.
As an elder law attorney, you work with the target age group for many of these scams. It's important to keep your clients informed. If someone contacts your clients purporting to be from the IRS, they should call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to see what the facts are before proceeding.