Scams used to be easy to identify. Maybe you’d get an email from a foreign prince claiming to need help cashing a check, or you’d get a robocall about a service you don’t even have. Those days are over – scammers are sophisticated and are getting better all the time. They can fake email addresses (making the sender look legitimate), use techniques to spoof caller IDs (so your phone says “IRS” when they call), and flawlessly copy official letterheads. Many smart people have been fooled and lost everything as a result. You need to keep your guard up and not let your emotions get the better of your judgement when you receive a tempting or concerning message. Let’s look at the most common techniques these criminals use and what you can do to avoid falling for them.
Fraudulent Mail is Increasing
The IRS has issued multiple advisories about scam letters being sent to taxpayers. Often, these letters will claim that you have an unclaimed refund and you need to act now before you lose the opportunity to get the money that you are owed. Sometimes these letters are obvious scams – they look suspicious and are riddled with spelling errors, or they ask for an unusual amount of personal information that the IRS would already have. However, sometimes these letters are nearly indistinguishable from a real IRS mailing, and even smart, savvy people are sometimes fooled. When in doubt, DO NOT RESPOND!
Email and Social Media Scams
This one is easy – The IRS never contacts taxpayers by email, text or social media regarding a bill or tax refund. Period. End of story. You can safely disregard any message of this nature.
Remember, never click on any unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS as it could load malware onto your phone or computer. Skilled hackers can also use email messages or links sent by text or social media to install ransomware. Ransomware locks your files and demands a payment before you can access them. Never click a suspicious link.
COVID-19: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency is officially over, but the scams remain. Many taxpayers continue to be fooled by thieves targeting people with letters, calls and messages claiming that the taxpayer is still owed an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check). Who doesn’t like free money? That’s what the scammers are counting on.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this one too. If you missed an economic impact payment, you would have received a credit on your 2020 or 2021 income tax return (depending on which payment was missed). If you are unsure of the status of your payments, you can check them at IRS.gov. IRS.gov is the ONLY legitimate website to view this information. Very few taxpayers will still be eligible to receive a payment or a credit. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Stop Most Fraudsters in their Tracks with an Official IRS Identity Protection PIN
An Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) is a six-digit number that prevents someone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The IP PIN is known only to you and the IRS. It helps them verify your identity when you file your tax return. The only other person who should know your IP PIN is your professional tax preparer, such as your accountant at Tortolano & Company. Be very, very cautious of anyone claiming to be from the IRS who requests your IP PIN to “verify your identity.” This is not normal and should be a big red flag.
The fastest way to receive an IP PIN is by using the online “Get an IP PIN” tool, available on IRS.gov. If you wish to get an IP PIN and you don’t already have an account on IRS.gov, you must register to validate your identity. Do not sign up for an IP PIN or enter your IP PIN on any website other than IRS.gov!
Not Sure If a Call, Letter, or Email is Legitimate?
When in doubt, never respond directly to a suspicious message. If you receive a letter from someone claiming to represent the IRS, do not send them information or contact them. Visit IRS.gov, log into your account if you have one, or call them at the number listed on their official website. Scammers are getting craftier by the day, and many of their letters and emails look legitimate. It’s better to be safe than sorry!