Last week, a very special pair of clients found a message on their answering machine, purportedly from the IRS. The speaker called himself "Agent" David Brown and said that my clients needed to get in touch. He left a number and urged my clients to call him immediately, or there would be penalties. But the whole thing was a scam.
My clients were dubious and Googled the phone number, finding out that it was part of a scam with escalating threats. One person apparently was told he'd be arrested in 45 minutes.
So they weren't harmed—but plenty were. Here are some tips to avoid both phone and email scams that can cost you money and aggravation, and even lead to virus-infected computers.
For phones, look at the number. Some of them work like 900 numbers—so simply by calling back you run up a huge bill, while the scammer talks a lot of nonsense. Is it a legitimate area code?
If you're doubtful, visit the recently updated IRS scam page, which describes recent scams and gives advice on how to avoid getting caught.
And there's always something new: In a March 20 press release, J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, revealed a new scam that he was the largest of its kind the Service had ever seen. TIGTA had received reports of over 20,000 contacts, and the victims have collectively paid more than $1 million as a result. Like the con artists that hit my clients, individuals have made unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials.
If you're not sure of the validity of an IRS communication, you can call to confirm at 800-829-4933.
Frauds Revolve Around Others, Too
When it comes to fraudsters, the IRS isn't the only game in town. Con artists hide behind other legitimate agencies and companies as well. Here are some email scams related to taxes and other junk that I have received in the last few days. They are a representative example of what's out there. If you or your clients get something like this, don't even open them or click on any of the links.
In fact, if you have a window pane that lets you see the email and "mouseover" links it contains, you will see the underlying links do not take you to visible, legitimate location.
- Email presumably from Google and the subject is "Direct Message from Google Service." It says "view message here" with a link. Do not click on this.
- Amazon e-mail, with the subject line "Amazon thanks you." There's a voucher ID and a link to a "rewards center website."
- Fake Facebook email, with the name of someone you don't know commenting on your status. Look at the link: it's not a legitimate Facebook link. Don't click on it.
- A payroll scam, apparently from ADP. This looks scary and official, and if you're involved in payroll issues, you might click right away without realizing it's just a strange Zip file with a strange name.
- The courtroom summons. This is designed to make you sit up and take notice: an email that seems to indicate you're involved in legal proceedings. As with other emails, there's a Zip file. Do not open the file.
- A fake tax relief email. This promises some sort of special package of tax relief, and may allege it's official government relief. But don't believe it and don't open the attachments.
About the author:
Eva Rosenberg, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com ®, where your tax questions are answered. Eva is the author of several books and ebooks, including "Small Business Taxes Made Easy." Eva teaches a tax pro course at IRSExams.com and tax courses to help you deal with tax debt http://www.cpelink.com/teamtaxmama.