Kirsten Gibson, technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP)
If you receive an email, text or social media message from someone claiming to be affiliated with the IRS, it’s almost certainly a scam. Question phone callers claiming to be IRS representatives, too. If you remember only one thing this tax season, other than to file your return, it’s this: the IRS will not contact a taxpayer asking for personal information via email, text message or social media.
Tax season is ripe for scamming. As taxpayers figure out how to file their taxes in accordance with federal student loan rules, President Barack Obama’s health care law and a myriad of other complications, scammers gear up to take advantage of a period of confusion. The Better Business Bureau consistently ranks tax scams as the top type of scam in the United States by a wide margin.
“Identity theft is always a huge concern,” says Greg Hedrick, Purdue’s chief information security officer. “Criminals who acquire enough of a person’s information, including a Social Security number, may attempt to use those details to fill out a false tax return and claim a refund under another person’s name. Of course, this could also lead to the rejection of a person’s real return.”
Should you find yourself engaging with someone who claims to be from the IRS, pause to assess the situation. The person writing the message or on the phone will probably be insistent that it’s an emergency and action must be taken immediately. They might also threaten you with arrest, deportation or loss of driver’s license.
The callers who commit this kind of fraud often:
- Use common names (like Jones or Smith) and fake IRS badge numbers.
- Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number.
- Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
- Send bogus IRS emails to support their scam.
- Call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles (and the spoofed caller ID again supports their claim).
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do:
- If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
- If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to Treasury Inspector General Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484.
- You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.
According to TIGTA, since 2013 more than 1.8 million people reported calls from scammers and more than 9,600 victims paid the impostors a total of more than $50 million.
Individuals also might want to sign up for a credit freeze with each of the three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – to further guard against fraud this tax season. The freeze can be initiated for free within minutes online at the Indiana Attorney General’s website. Once a freeze is initiated, you can temporarily lift it anytime to apply for new credit or a loan.
Students, faculty and staff should contact the police if they think they have been a victim of identity theft.