INDIANAPOLIS — The Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday its "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams, and many involve COVID-19 and stimulus payments.
Here are this year's 'Dirty Dozen' scams, according to the IRS:
Phishing: Taxpayers should be leery of fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a tax bill, refund or Economic Impact Payments, also known as stimulus checks. Don't click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Be careful of emails and websites − they may be nothing more than a ruse to steal personal information.
IRS Criminal Investigation has seen a tremendous increase in phishing schemes using keywords such as "coronavirus," "COVID-19" and "Stimulus" in various ways.
Fake Charities: Criminals frequently use natural disasters and situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal from people trying to help in times of need.
They normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, e-mail or in-person using a variety of tactics. Phony websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information. They may even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
Taxpayers should be particularly wary of charities with names like nationally known organizations. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Number (EIN), if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy. Taxpayers can find legitimate and qualified charities with the search tool on IRS.gov.
Threatening Impersonator Phone Calls: In this one, the scammer attempts to instill fear and urgency in the potential victim. In fact, the IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or surprise him or her with a demand for immediate payment.
Phone scams or "vishing" (voice phishing) pose a major threat. Scam phone calls, including those threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if the victim doesn't pay a bogus tax bill, are a concern year round.
The IRS will never demand immediate payment, threaten, ask for financial information over the phone. They also will not call about an unexpected refund or Economic Impact Payment. Taxpayers should contact the real IRS if they're concerned about having a tax problem.
Social Media Scams: Social media allows anyone to share information with anyone else on the Internet. Scammers use that information as ammunition for a wide variety of scams. These include emails where scammers impersonate someone's family, friends or co-workers.
Social media scams have also led to tax-related identity theft. Typically, the scammer convinces a potential victim that he or she is dealing with a person close to them that they trust via email, text or social media messaging.
Using personal information, a scammer may email you and include a link to something of interest which contains malware intended to commit more crimes. Scammers also infiltrate their victim's emails and cell phones to go after their friends and family with fake emails that appear to be real and text messages soliciting, for example, small donations to fake charities.
EIP or Refund Theft:. The IRS says criminals have turned their efforts to stealing Economic Impact Payments as provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Much of this stems from identity theft when criminals file false tax returns or supply other bogus information to the IRS to divert refunds to wrong addresses or bank accounts.
The IRS recently warned nursing homes that Economic Impact Payments generally belong to the recipients, not the organizations providing the care. These payments do not count as a resource for determining eligibility for Medicaid and other federal programs They also do not count as income in determining eligibility for these programs.
Senior Fraud: Senior citizens and their families need to be on alert for tax scams. Financial abuse of seniors is a problem among personal and professional relationships. Anecdotal evidence across professional services indicates that elder fraud goes down substantially when the service provider knows a trusted friend or family member is taking an interest in the senior's affairs.
Older Americans are becoming more comfortable with evolving technologies, such as social media. Unfortunately, that gives scammers another means of taking advantage. Phishing scams linked to Covid-19 have been a major threat this filing season. Seniors need to be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information.
Scams targeting non-English speakers: IRS impersonators and other scammers also target groups with limited English proficiency. Phone scams pose a major threat to people with limited access to information, including individuals not entirely comfortable with the English language. These calls frequently take the form of a "robocall" but in some cases may be made by a real person.
A common one remains the IRS impersonation scam where a taxpayer receives a call threatening jail time, deportation or revocation of a driver's license from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Taxpayers who are recent immigrants often are the most vulnerable and should ignore these threats and not engage the scammers.
Unscrupulous Return Preparers: Dishonest tax preparers pop up every filing season committing fraud, harming innocent taxpayers or talking taxpayers into doing illegal things they regret later.
Taxpayers should avoid so-called "ghost" preparers who expose their clients to potentially serious filing mistakes as well as possible tax fraud and risk of losing their refunds.
Ghost preparers don't sign the tax returns they prepare. They may print the tax return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS. For e-filed returns, the ghost preparer will prepare but not digitally sign as the paid preparer. By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assists in preparing federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns.
Unscrupulous preparers may also target those without a filing requirement and may or may not be due a refund. They promise inflated refunds by claiming fake tax credits, including education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and others. Taxpayers should avoid preparers who ask them to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at the taxpayer's records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund.
Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of their tax return, regardless of who prepares it. Taxpayers can go to a special page [lnks.gd] on IRS.gov for tips on choosing a preparer.
Offer in Compromise Mills: Taxpayers need to be wary of misleading tax debt resolution companies that can exaggerate chances to settle tax debts for "pennies on the dollar" through an Offer in Compromise (OIC). These offers are available for taxpayers who meet very specific criteria under law to qualify for reducing their tax bill. But unscrupulous companies oversell the program to unqualified candidates so they can collect a hefty fee from taxpayers already struggling with debt.
These scams are commonly called OIC "mills," which cast a wide net for taxpayers, charge them pricey fees and churn out applications for a program they're unlikely to qualify for, according to the IRS. Although the OIC program helps thousands of taxpayers each year reduce their tax debt, not everyone qualifies for an OIC. In Fiscal Year 2019, there were 54,000 OICs submitted to the IRS. The agency accepted 18,000 of them.
Fake Payments with Repayment Demands: In this scam, a con artist steals a taxpayer's personal data including Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and bank account information. The scammer files a bogus tax return and has the refund deposited into the taxpayer's checking or savings account. Once the direct deposit hits the taxpayer's bank account, the criminal places a call to them, posing as an IRS employee. The taxpayer is told that there's been an error and that the IRS needs the money returned immediately or penalties and interest will result. The taxpayer is told to buy specific gift cards for the amount of the refund.
The IRS will never demand payment by a specific method..
Payroll and HR Scams: Tax professionals, employers and taxpayers need to be on guard against phishing designed to steal Form W-2s and other tax information. The IRS says this is particularly true with many businesses closed and their employees working from home due to COVID-19. Currently, two of the most common types of these scams are the gift card scam and the direct deposit scam.
In the gift card scam, a compromised email account is often used to send a request to purchase gift cards in various denominations. In the direct deposit scheme, the scammer may have access to the victim's email account (also known as an email account compromise or "EAC").
Ransomware: Ransomware is malware that infects a victim's computer, network or server. Malware is a form of invasive software that is often frequently inadvertently downloaded by the user. Once downloaded, it tracks keystrokes and computer activity. Once infected, ransomware looks for and locks critical or sensitive data with its own encryption. In some cases, entire computer networks can be adversely impacted.
Victims don't often find out about the attack until they try to access their data, or they receive a ransom request in the form of a pop-up window. The scammers don't want to be traced so they frequently use anonymous messaging platforms and demand payment in virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
The IRS urges everyone to be on guard, especially when it comes to the Dirty Dozen.
"Tax scams tend to rise during tax season or during times of crisis, and scam artists are using pandemic to try stealing money and information from honest taxpayers," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "The IRS provides the Dirty Dozen list to help raise awareness about common scams that fraudsters use to target people. We urge people to watch out for these scams. The IRS is doing its part to protect Americans. We will relentlessly pursue criminals trying to steal your money or sensitive personal financial information."