Now that tax season is over (well, except for those of us on extension), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning taxpayers to remain on alert for phishing emails and telephone scams. According to the IRS, summer attracts the attention of scammers since so many taxpayers expect to hear from the tax agency – so much so that tax pros refer to this time of year as correspondence season.

Scammers continue to change their tricks to stay ahead of law enforcement but generally try to get taxpayers to reveal personal information like Social Security numbers, account information, PINs or passwords over the phone or via email. Here are some of the ways that scammers try to trick you into revealing your information:

  • Pre-recorded messages. For most variations on this scam, scammers call and leave phone messages that suggest that if you do not call back, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Remember: The IRS does not call and leave pre-recorded, urgent messages asking for a callback.
  • Demand for payment calls. In this scheme, scammers call and claim that you have an outstanding tax bill. They then demand payment over the phone using gift cards, prepaid debit cards, or wire transfers. The IRS does not call and demand payment using specific methods, or threaten law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation or revocation of driver’s licenses if you don’t pay.
  • Taxpayer assistance center (TAC) calls. To try and convince you that they’re for real, criminals fake or “spoof” caller ID numbers, including numbers from a taxpayer assistance center. If you question whether the call is legitimate, the crooks will advise you to double-check the local TAC number with the website. Then the scammers will call you back and demand payment again, usually by debit card. Fraudsters also have spoofed local sheriff’s offices, state Department of Motor Vehicles, federal agencies and others to convince taxpayers that the call is legitimate. Remember: TAC offices do not make calls to taxpayers to demand payment of outstanding tax bills. Rather, TAC offices offer in-person help for taxpayers.
  • Email phishing scams. In one of the most popular variations on phishing efforts, scammers may send you an email that appears to be from the IRS or a program linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). The email prompts you to click on links which may take you to a website which asks for your information, or you may be asked to return information via email. Remember that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. Don’t click on links that you don’t recognize.
  • Fake form scams. In this scheme, criminals send a letter with a fake form W-8BEN to taxpayers claiming that they may be exempt from withholding and reporting income tax. The letter (or, in some cases, email or fax) that accompanies the bogus form W-8BEN also refers to form W9095. There is no form W9095, and the IRS doesn’t require recertification of foreign status.

Don’t be a victim. Remember that the IRS will never:

  • Request personal information, PIN codes or passwords.
  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • 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, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Here’s what to do if you receive a suspicious phone call, letter or message:

  • If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t engage with the scammer and do not give out any information. Just hang up.
  • If you receive a telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
  • If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS or a program affiliated with IRS, don’t respond and don’t click on any links.
  • If you receive a suspicious letter or call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, do not give out any information. Call the IRS directly at 1.800.829.1040 to discuss your specific situation.

Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. When in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity-theft-related tax fraud, click here.

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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