Tax season is stressful enough without the added anxiety of IRS scams, and in La Plata County, a pervasive telephone scam is attempting to dupe taxpayers into giving criminals money.
With the nation’s tax season starting Jan. 29, phishing scams are expected to increase in frequency, said Steven Osborne, a special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigation for the Denver field office.
“This time of year, the IRS is on people’s minds more than usual,” he said. “You have to understand, the people doing these impersonation scams, they go to work, and this is their job.”
Osborne said many of the scammers posing as IRS officials are based in foreign countries. Last year, several people were arrest in India in connection with fraud, he said.
The IRS always sends taxpayers a written notification of any due taxes via U.S. mail, and will never demand credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the phone.
The aggressive phone scams targeting taxpayers in La Plata County demand payment over the phone, threatening to arrest potential victims if they do not cooperate.
Often, these IRS scams come in the form of automated calls, sounding robotic, but vaguely female.
“These people don’t owe money, but when the IRS comes calling, it scares people,” Osborne said. “That’s not how the IRS operates. We will never threaten to bring local police to arrest you.”
Although it can be tempting to argue with someone posing as an IRS official, Osborne said the best course of action is to simply hang up.
He also warned about the prevalence of identity theft in Colorado as tax season approaches. Fraudsters have been known to steal personal identification throughout the year to file false tax returns.
If someone receives a rejected tax return or a notification about a tax return that doesn’t sync with one that was filed, it’s often a sign of identity theft.
The best way for people to protect their identity is to treat their Social Security information like cash, Osborne said.
“You should never carry your Social Security card,” he said. “Treat it like cash; don’t leave it lying around.”
Phishing emails asking taxpayers to follow a link and provide banking information is another way scammers try to steal identities.
Once people realize their identity has been stolen, time is of the essence, Osborne said.
“You need to act quickly and let us know about it so that we can get things corrected on the IRS side of things,” he said. “You also need to contact any financial institutions. They are pretty responsive and fast about providing new credit and debit cards.”
More recently, organizations are falling victim to W-2 phishing scams. Scammers draft emails that look as though they are coming directly from an executive at an organization, asking the payroll department or human resource department to send a list of the organization’s employees along with W-2 forms.
“This is kind of a new scam that we saw last year,” Osborne said. “A lot of businesses got hit with this. The more realistic a scammer can make a tax return look, the less likely it’ll get caught by the IRS filter.”
The IRS encourages people to report attempted scams by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.