By Scott Tanaka
In the first article that I wrote for the Pacific Citizen, I mentioned that prior to pursuing a career in social work, I was working full-time for a small bookkeeping and tax preparation business. I definitely do not miss those months leading up to the tax filing deadline!
With the April 17 deadline fast approaching, I want to talk about a few scams that you should be aware of. Older adults are often more vulnerable to these types of scams, especially those who live alone and are not familiar with the Internal Revenue Service’s protocol. The first one I want to talk about is the IRS Imposter Scam.
This scam is not a new one. I remember back in 2015, when I was still working in accounting, clients would call us about how they received a phone call from the IRS demanding payment for past-due taxes owed. We would always tell them that the IRS never uses the telephone as a first method of communication; it always mails you a correspondence first.
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network tells us:
The IRS Imposter Scam is an intimidating and sophisticated phone scam in which callers claim to be IRS employees and say you owe taxes. They might also:
- Threaten to arrest or deport you if you don’t pay.
- Know all or part of your Social Security number.
- Rig caller ID to make it look like the call is from the IRS.
- Tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the card number.What to Do?
Know that the IRS does NOT:
- Call to demand immediate payment about taxes owed without first sending you a notification by mail.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest you for nonpayment.
If you have any doubts, call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040.
A second type of tax fraud that has surfaced recently is the Tax Refund Scam. The IRS is warning taxpayers of a fast-growing scam involving fraudsters stealing their information from professional tax preparers to file fraudulent tax returns.
The scammers use the data to arrange to send refunds to the taxpayers’ real bank accounts. Then, a scammer posing as a debt collector tells the taxpayer that a refund was erroneously deposited in his or her account and that it should be forwarded to a fake collection agency.
The IRS also warns that taxpayers who file electronically might find that their tax return is rejected because a return bearing their Social Security number has already been filed by a scammer. If that happens, taxpayers should follow the IRS’ Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft, which can be found online (https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft). Those who’ve already received erroneous refunds should follow IRS guidelines (https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc161).
Also, always be on the look out for tax ID theft.
AARP Fraud Watch Network explains:
Tax ID Theft is when your personal information is stolen for a fraudulent refund. More specifically, tax identity theft can involve:
- Filing a tax return using another person’s Social Security number.
- Claiming someone else’s children as dependents.
- Claiming a tax refund using a deceased taxpayer’s information.
Your personal information can be stolen in a number of ways, including theft of mail or tax returns, corrupt tax preparation services or phony emails from imposters. Con artists can quickly learn a lot about you in order to take your money while also defrauding the government.
What to Do?
To avoid tax identity theft:
- Do mail tax returns as early in the tax season as possible before the cons beat you to it.
- Don’t give out personal information unless you know who’s asking for it and why they need it.
- Do shred personal and financial documents.
- Do know your tax preparer.
- Do check the status of your refund after filing at irs.gov/Refunds.
For help, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490 and visit irs.gov/identitytheft.
If you’ve spotted a scam or think you may have been scammed, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline at (877) 908-3360 for advice and guidance.
Scott Tanaka is a board member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and project coordinator for AARP Multicultural Leadership.