By Ellen Marks / Assistant Business Editor/Albuquerque Journal
PUBLISHED: Sunday, February 1, 2015 at 12:02 am
It seems as though the annual ritual of figuring out your taxes, filing a flutter of paperwork and trying not to get crosswise with the IRS would be difficult enough, but no. We also must deal with a sharp rise in scams this time of year that prey upon already-taxed taxpayers.
The state Attorney General’s Office has seen “a tremendous increase in the number of IRS scams being reported,” says Rebecca Branch, deputy director of the Consumer Protection Division.
“I anticipate that these will continue in full force until April,” she says.
Among the most common is the one in which a caller tells you he is from the IRS and that you owe money. If you don’t send payment immediately, you are threatened with dire consequences – anything from police arrest to license revocation to deportation.
Or callers might tell you that you are due a refund and try to trick you into sharing private information. “These con artists can sound convincing when they call,” an IRS news release says. “They may know a lot about you.”
They often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling, and they might use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave “urgent” callback requests.
In fact, these types of calls are such a “persistent and pervasive problem” that they top the IRS’ 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list, which details the most-common scams hitting taxpayers.
“If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don’t pay immediately, it’s a scam artist calling,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The first IRS contact with taxpayers is usually through the mail.”
New Mexicans have been bilked out of a total of $26,000 since October 2013, due to this type of scam. Nationwide, about 290,000 such calls have been made during that period, tricking 3,000 victims out of more than $14 million, federal officials say.
The scammers’ prime goal – besides getting your money, of course – is to frighten you so that you will become their next target.
For example, one Albuquerque woman said the man who contacted her used a “threatening tone,” while another local resident said he was told the supposed IRS call represented his “final notice.”
The IRS says there are five classic scam elements that will tip you off because the IRS never:
•Uses email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues involving bills or refund.
•Demands immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
•Demands that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount it says you owe.
•Requires that you use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
•Asks for credit- or debit-card numbers over the phone.
•Threatens to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
There are other tax-related cons for you to be aware of this time of year.
It’s especially important to guard your private information, so you don’t become a victim of identity theft. Once someone has stolen your name, your Social Security number or other personal details, they can fraudulently file a tax return in your name and claim the refund. If you believe your identity has been stolen, call the IRS at 800-908-4490 so the agency can secure your account.
Be aware that scam artists pose as tax preparers. They promise large federal tax refunds, promoting their claims with fliers, advertisements, storefronts or even word of mouth involving community groups or churches, according to the IRS. This type of fraud tends to prey on people who don’t earn enough income to file a return or who are non-English speakers.
They might dupe you into making claims for fictitious rebates, benefits or tax credits or divert your refund.
Use care when choosing a tax preparer because you will be the one who ends up penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.
Honest people and companies generally: Ask for proof of income and eligibility for credits and deductions; sign returns as the preparer; enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and provide the taxpayer a copy of the return.
Albuquerque police are warning of a different kind of scam, one in which the caller will tell you a family member has been kidnapped and that you must pay $3,000 for the person’s release.
He or she will start out asking “oblique, personal information questions …, under the auspices of a family member being involved in an automobile accident,” an APD news release says. “The caller then uses this information to make the threat more personal.”
Calls like these have been received in Albuquerque and in northern New Mexico and have come from the same number: 505-428-8866, which is a disposable cellphone purchased in Santa Fe, police say.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.