Criminals are constantly finding new ways to con Americans out of money, and the latest attempt involves thieves claiming to be from the IRS.
And while IRS scams have been around for years, fraudsters are carrying them out in new and different ways every day -- so it's crucial for consumers to stay up to date on how to avoid these scams and how to protect themselves.
A new IRS scam to watch out for this tax season
The new scam involves fake tax bills tied to the Affordable Care Act, and there are a couple of different versions making the rounds.
People are receiving notices that look exactly like legitimate letters from the IRS -- asking for payment based on information that the letter claims doesn't match other records on file that were reported to the IRS by a third party, such as interest on some type of financial account.
The IRS does send notices like this through the mail, asking for payments or other updated information that needs to be verified, but the problem is that scammers have made it almost impossible for consumers to tell the difference between a real IRS letter and a fake one.
What the new scam looks like
According to a warning issued by the IRS, the fake notices typically ask the person who received the letter to pay a balance they owe in connection with Affordable Care Act health coverage for 2014. Taxpayers without proper health coverage have to pay a penalty, so of course scammers jumped on the opportunity as a way to sound legit to a vulnerable consumer.
According to the IRS, criminals across the country are sending fraudulent versions of CP2000 notices for tax year 2015, which are letters that inform taxpayers about discrepancies on their tax return.
As the tax scams start to ramp up this season, taxpayers should beware of the same notices marked for tax year 2016!
What makes this scam different from other IRS scams is that the notices are being sent via email -- as well as through the mail.
Typically, the way to spot this type of scam is knowing that the IRS will never communicate this information via email -- but since the notices are coming through as actual paper mail, that no longer applies.
However, the IRS says there are ways for potential victims to spot and avoid fake notices demanding payment.
Here are a few warning signs that a notice "from the IRS" is fake:
- Appears to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address.
- Says the issue is related to the Affordable Care Act and requests information regarding 2014 coverage.
- Lists the letter number in the payment voucher as 105C.
- Requests checks made out to I.R.S. and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a post office box.
This IRS says the type of notice scammers are using is usually several pages long, so another thing to remember if you receive this type of letter in the mail.
How to protect yourself
While IRS scams are carried out in a variety of ways, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind in order to help protect yourself.
With any IRS scam, the criminals use extremely intimidating and aggressive tactics to convince people to hand over money. So when you think about a caller claiming to be from the IRS threatening someone with jail time if they don't pay up immediately, it's a little easier to understand how a person could be fooled into putting thousands of dollars on an iTunes gift card to pay back the IRS -- which is another scam that's been making the rounds.
So to protect your information and your money, here are some things to keep in mind!
The IRS will never:
- 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.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you still aren't sure if it's a scam or not, here's what the IRS says you should do:
- Do not give out any information and hang up immediately.
- Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” page or call 800-366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
- If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
Read more: Another IRS phone scam to watch out for
More ways to spot and avoid similar types of scams
For whatever reason, smartphones have caused people to let their guard down -- and now more and more people are falling victim to various scams carried out via phone call, email and text message.
Scammers make themselves look legitimate so you will trust them -- and they prey on people's emotions and fears to get them to make fast decisions, before there's even time to think it through.
So to help you avoid some common and ongoing scams, keep these tips in mind:
- Don't be pressured to make fast decisions.
- Take time to research any organization or group that reaches out to you directly.
- Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.
- Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know. Even with people you do know, do not provide this information via phone, email or text message.
- Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
- If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank or any other company, call the business directly using the number on your bill or credit card.
- Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
- Never send money for an emergency situation unless you can verify the emergency.