How to tell the difference between legitimate contact and a scammer
The IRS tax filing deadline is now behind us—and most taxpayers are breathing a sigh of relief. But while we can put the annual chore of calculating our taxes behind us for the year, there’s another IRS-related issue to keep on our radar: IRS impostor scams.
If you’ve ever received a suspicious voicemail, email, or text message from someone purporting to be an IRS agent, you’re not alone. The U.S. Treasury Department received reports of more than 2.5 million scam calls from IRS impersonators between October 2013 and March 2021. The 16,000 victims of these cons collectively lost more than $82 million. Like most scams, seniors are often the targets.
With many of us eagerly awaiting a tax refund (or dreading a potential audit), how do we know when correspondence from the IRS is legitimate—or a scam?
Every year millions of older adults are targeted by scammers. The reasons are plentiful: Retirees are more likely to have significant financial savings, own a home, and have good credit. Seniors tend to be trusting and polite. Older adults are often less internet-savvy than their younger counterparts. And finally, elderly citizens are more likely to suffer with memory and judgment issues, making them a vulnerable target.
We’ve all been raised to have a healthy fear of the Internal Revenue Service, so it makes sense that most of us would be alarmed by a call from someone purporting to be an IRS agent. But when should these calls be taken seriously, and when are they fakes? The following four tax scams are some of the most frequently reported.
Common IRS Impostor Scams:
Offers to Recalculate Your Payment or Refund
In this scam, fraudsters send an email with a subject line like “recalculation of your tax refund.” The email can appear legitimate and may even display an IRS logo. It asks the recipient to click a link to provide personal information like their Social Security Number, birthdate, or mother’s maiden name.
Threats of Liens
Have you ever received a threatening letter or call from the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement?” These scammers often target their victims by threatening a tax lien or tax levy on your assets.
Robocalls and Voicemails
Scammers can be cunning and “spoof” phone numbers on your Caller ID to make it appear like they’re calling from a legitimate source. Often, these are robocalls that leave a pre-recorded voicemail threatening to arrest or deport you. They may also threaten to revoke your social security number or driver’s license if you don’t cooperate with them.
Offers to Find Your Tax Refund Status
Another common scam typically comes in the form of an email offering to give you an update on your tax refund status. The goal is to trick the recipient into clicking on a malicious link to either collect personal information or expose the user’s computer to malware.
How to Spot a Scammer:
There are several simple ways to spot an IRS scammer. When someone purporting to be from the IRS contacts you, ask yourself these questions:
How did they contact you?
The IRS will always initiate contact by U.S. Postal Service first. They won’t call you without sending a letter first. Additionally, they don’t initiate contact via social media, email, or text message. If you are contacted via these methods, immediately send the message to the virtual dustbin—and do not click any links or download any attachments.
Do they want you to send them money?
This is another red flag. The IRS only mails paper bills via the U.S. Postal Service to collect tax payments. If anyone is asking you for a credit, debit, or gift card number, it’s a scam. And if they ask for a check, make sure they want it to be made out to the U.S. Treasury, not a collections agency or some other entity.
Are they threatening you?
The idea of an IRS audit is intimidating enough, but many scammers will go above and beyond to scare you into sending them money or giving up your personal information. The IRS can’t revoke your driver’s license, social security number or immigration status. Anyone making a similar threat is trying to dupe you. Don’t give them your information—and report them on the IRS scam reporting webpage.
Do they have legitimate ID?
If someone comes to your door posing as an IRS agent, ask to see their pocket commission and their HSPD-12 card. These government-issued IDs will be carried by any legitimate IRS agent. Want to know if an IRS agent is the real deal? Call the IRS at 800-366-4484.
Still aren’t sure if it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door? Visit the IRS website for more information.
Have you or a senior you know fallen victim to a scam? Oasis Senior Advisors is a trusted resource for seniors, their families and others who serve older adults. If you need help contacting the proper channels to report identity theft or elder fraud, contact your local advisor today.