In honor of the traditional day of practical jokes and harmless antics, instead of chasing the hottest new tax scam, why not arm yourself with traits that will help identify even the most recent version of them. Here is what you need to know:
You are a target
While virtually anyone can be a target of scams, thieves usually target those that are most likely to respond. So if you fit into one of these categories, your scam meter should go way up:
- Elderly. Why: High trust, generally less tech savvy
- Students. Why: Low income, high debt, and lack of street smarts
- Immigrants. Why: Easy to threaten residence status, lower understanding of processes
- Heavy social media users. Why: More willing to give away their identity and to click on things.
Action: If one of these groups describes you, understand you will be subject to a scam…probably every year. If not, then understand who you need to coach for heightened awareness.
Hints to identify scams
While not a sure-fire way to avoid all types of scams, if you follow these hints to identify scams, the likelihood of being a victim lowers dramatically.
- Personal information is requested via email, web, or phone.
- The contact comes to you, and not the other way around.
- Emails ask you to click on something.
- You are asked to visit a website.
- Initial contact from the “IRS” is anything other than mail.
- You feel threatened.
- Fear is used as a tactic.
Never give them your keys
You would never give your car keys to a complete stranger. So keep that thought in your mind as it relates to your identity, and your money. Drive your own car when it comes to the IRS by controlling the process. You do this by:
- Understanding. Initial contact with the IRS and their collection agents always uses the mail. So never respond via email or web or phone.
- Not taking the bait. Any non-mail initial contact is met by hanging up the phone or deleting the email. And NEVER click on any links in an email or go to a website directed by a stranger.
- Independent confirmation. Never respond directly unless a trusted expert handles the correspondence for you. In addition, ask any IRS agent for their pocket commission and HSPD-12 card. Then go to www.irs.gov, get the appropriate phone number and call them for confirmation that the person or form is legitimate.
- Ignore, non-mail, non-federal. Scammers know it is harder to scam with an IRS ID, so they will claim to be from the state, local law enforcement, Social Security and even the Taxpayer Advocate Service. IN ALL CASES, either ignore or hang up the phone. Then independently look up the number of the agency and call them directly to confirm the validity of the claim. If they say they are legit, ask for mail confirmation, but DO NOT give them your address, they should already have it.
- Payment only goes one place. Finally, all IRS payments are made out to the US Treasury and sent via approved addresses or direct deposit. This can be found on www.irs.gov. There are no exceptions to this. So do not give credit card information, buy gift cards, send a check to anyone other than approved addresses, or pay anyone other than the US Treasury.
Remember, your best defense is a good offense, so call immediately if you need help. And now you really can have a happy April Fools Day!