Dirty dozen tax scams of 2016
Every year, the IRS releases a list of what it calls the worst tax scams of the year. Beginning Feb. 1 and ending on Feb. 17, the IRS issued a news release each day highlighting a scam. These “dirty dozen” scams can be encountered at any time of year, but the IRS reports that they peak during tax season.
1. Identity theft
According to the IRS, the No. 1 scam this year is tax-related identity theft, which the IRS defines as when someone uses a taxpayer’s stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund (IR-2016-12). Although the IRS has introduced more effective screening and detection systems that are designed to detect identity theft before it issues a refund, the Service admitted that it is still a major problem. To fight the problem more effectively, over the past year, the IRS has participated in a Security Summit initiative in partnership with states and the tax-preparation industry to try to improve security for taxpayers. The participants share information of fraudulent schemes that have been detected this filing season to provide increased protection. More than 20 data elements are used, unknown to taxpayers, to verify tax return information.
In addition, the IRS urged taxpayers to protect their own information so it is harder for thieves to breach the IRS’s security systems. These efforts at taxpayer education include the Taxes. Security. Together. campaign to help taxpayers avoid the data breaches that make it easier for them to become victims.
2. Phone scams
The second scam this year is phone scams, in which criminals call, impersonating the IRS (IR-2016-14). Many times, they disguise the number they are calling from so it appears to be the IRS or another agency calling, and they may threaten arrest, deportation, or license revocation. The scammers sometimes use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate and use the victim’s name, address, and other personal information, which makes the call sound official.
To protect themselves, the IRS says, taxpayers should be aware the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill, call to demand payment without the opportunity to question or appeal, require use of a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to arrest a taxpayer for not paying.
Another scam that continues to appear high on the list is “phishing,” in which taxpayers get unsolicited emails seeking financial or personal information. A taxpayer who receives a suspicious email should send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. “The IRS won’t send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (IR-2016-15). Scam emails can also infect a computer with malware without the taxpayer’s knowing it, often enabling the criminals to access sensitive files or track keyboard strokes, exposing login information. Read more on Journal of Accountancy.