By Joanne Arbogast
The Daily Item
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start thinking about filing your tax returns.
It’s also time to be on the lookout for tax-refund scams.
People around the country are getting messages — by phone and by email — saying “the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has determined you have qualified” for a tax refund.
Someone posing as an IRS agent then asks for credit card or bank account information or leaves a message for you to return the call, which happens to have a Washington, D.C., area code (home of the real IRS). When you call, you will be asked for the information.
According to Scambusters.org, another phone scam involves a phony IRS agent saying your “good credit and timely filing of tax returns qualifies you for no-obligation government grants” and “because you, the taxpayer, is such a good citizen, you are going to receive a $10,000 grant from the government you don’t need to repay.”
Of course, he’ll add that the grants are for a limited time only, so you must act quickly to collect. All they need is your bank account number so the money can be electronically deposited.
The email tax scam looks legitimate, including its realistic-looking but phony IRS logo. It reads, “... after the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined you are eligible to receive a tax refund” of some odd amount like $53.41. Because it’s odd, you may be lulled into thinking it must be true.
You will be instructed to click on a link that will take you to a website where you will be asked to provide your Social Security number and bank account information.
Do not click on the links.
Don’t give personal and financial information to strangers.
The IRS already has all the information it needs on you.
Know that the IRS may send you a letter by mail and occasionally might call you but it will never send you a tax refund notice by email.
Every year the IRS posts warnings on its website (www.irs.gov) urging people to be on the alert for tax refund and tax related scams.
One particularly nasty scam happens when an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund.
Generally, the identity thief will use a stolen Social Security number to file a forged tax return and attempt to get a fraudulent refund early in the filing season. You may be unaware this has happened until you file your return later in the filing season and discover that two returns have been filed using the same Social Security number.
Due to the growth of identity-theft cases from 2011 to 2012, the IRS doubled the number of agents (up to 3,000) working on them and are trying to help victims as quickly as possible. Last year the agency created a special ID number to make sure a return belongs to a legitimate taxpayer and according to Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, issued those numbers to more than 250,000 taxpayers. For this year’s filing season, numbers were assigned to more than 600,000.
If you receive a notice from IRS, respond immediately. If you believe someone may have used your Social Security number fraudulently, notify IRS immediately by responding to the name and number printed on the notice or letter. You will need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.
For victims of identity theft who have previously been in contact with the IRS and have not achieved a resolution, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free, at (800) 908-4490.
What to watch for
This year, the Internal Revenue Service is asking you to be particularly vigilant to possible identity theft if you receive an IRS notice that states:
n More than one tax return for you was filed;
n You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return; or
n IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.