By Ken Berry
In a new press release, the IRS has sounded alarms of a slightly different nature than the ones issued by meteorologists earlier this month: A nationwide call for taxpayers to avoid scams in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (IR-2012-91).
The IRS acknowledges that it's common for scam artists to impersonate charitable organizations while trying to pry money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, e-mail, or in-person solicitations. As a result, the IRS is advising both hurricane victims and potential donors to follow these basic precautions:
- First and foremost, make donations only to recognized charities.
- Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows you to find qualified charities that are eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. Legitimate charities may also be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.
- Don't give out personal financial information - such as Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers and passwords - to anyone attempting to solicit a contribution. Criminals may use this information to steal your identity and money.
- Don't donate cash. For security and tax recordkeeping purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that documents the gift.
- Call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number, (866) 562-5227, if you're a hurricane victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster-related tax issues.
The IRS is also reminding taxpayers that scam artists may use a variety of clever tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities often contact people by telephone to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for, or on behalf of, the IRS to help them file casualty loss claims and obtain tax refunds. They may try to procure personal financial information or Social Security numbers that will later be used to steal the victims' identities or financial resources.
Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims. They might mimic sites of legitimate charities, or use names similar to legitimate charities, to obtain funds or personal information. Furthermore, scammers frequently send e-mail messages that will steer the recipient to a bogus website.
Taxpayers suspecting disaster-related frauds should visit the IRS website and search using the keywords "report phishing." More information can be found using the keywords "scams and schemes."