I don’t believe in blaming the victim. Stealing is wrong and those folks who would attempt to trick honest taxpayers into turning over their assets as part of a scam are committing a crime. There’s no excuse.
That said, I do believe that protecting taxpayers from scams shouldn’t be relegated to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and law enforcement. We all have a responsibility to be diligent and to be smart when it comes to protecting our data and our resources. Common sense would dictate that your PIN shouldn’t be 1234, your password shouldn’t be PASSWORD and that you shouldn’t be so fast to hand over your data to folks who ask for it without vetting them a bit first.
And here’s another rule: if you can’t report a scam attempt without laughing out loud, perhaps you should give it some additional thought. Or, at the very least, if you can imagine other people staring at you with mouths open and puzzled looks as you recount an attempt to steal from you, it should be a heads up that your scam radar should have been going off a little bit earlier.
This brings me to the latest “IRS Impersonation Scam” bulletin that I received from the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The bulletin, which was issued today, was sufficiently alarming, what with all of the capital letters and asterisks advising not once, not twice, but four times that it was an “ALERT.”
So I’m thinking that there must be another clever scheme making the rounds. And to be fair, many of the schemes that are currently ensnaring taxpayers are well-done: you can understand how taxpayers could be tricked into revealing information or turning over cash or credit card information in order to settle an alleged tax debt. After all, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) accepts payment a number of ways these days – including cash.
But here’s what they don’t accept: iTunes Gift Cards.
That’s right. The bulletin advises that “TIGTA has received information that callers impersonating Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees or the Treasury Department are demanding payments on iTunes Gift Cards.”
And while almost every artist on the planet may do business with Apple – including those who say they won’t like Kanye and then do anyway – the IRS does not. iTunes Gift Cards are not legitimate payment for taxes. Or put another way, you cannot pay your tax bill in Taylor Swift songs.
The bulletin goes on to emphasize that:
Any call requesting that taxpayers place funds on an iTunes Gift Card or other prepaid cards to pay taxes and fees is an indicator of fraudulent activity!
(That’s their exclamation point, not mine.)
The bulletin recites a whole litany of payment options requested by scammers that should trip your scam radar, including Green Dot Prepaid Cards, MoneyPak Prepaid Cards, Reloadit Prepaid Debit Cards, and other prepaid credit cards. The bulletin also warns:
No legitimate United States Treasury or IRS official will demand that payments via Western Union, MoneyGram, bank wire transfers or bank deposits be made into another person’s account for any debt to the IRS or Treasury.
I’ll help you out with a few of my own. You shouldn’t respond to requests that you pay your tax liability in NFL trading cards, gift certificates to Olive Garden or the Cheesecake Factory, airline frequent flyer points, Kylie Jenner lip kits, or pie (no matter how delicious).
Remember that the IRS has previously confirmed they will not:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
- Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or email.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
You can now add “pay in iTunes or other wacky forms of payment” to the list.
I get that it’s increasingly difficult to tell the scams from the legitimate requests. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to let common sense fly out of the window. Protect yourself by using good judgment – if in doubt, assume it’s a scam. Be smart. And let’s be careful out there.