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Weiss: With Tax Day Looming, Watch Out for IRS Imposters

Monday, April 09, 2018

 

With the April 15 tax filing deadline just around the corner, AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is gearing up to keep taxpayers from falling victim to imposter scams aimed at taking away their hard earned dollars. 

Tax fraud and other identity theft schemes are a growing problem, says the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal consumer protection agency.  Last month, FTC released its Consumer Sentinel Dadsta Book 2017 reporting that scammers took $ 900 million away from their victims. Tax fraud ranked second that year in types of identity theft reported, as over 82,000 reports were made.  Meanwhile, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that as of May 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had identified 195,941 tax returns with more than $2 billion in fraudulent refund claims and the agency prevented the issuance of appropriately 92 percent of those refunds.

Don’t fall Victim to the IRS Scammers

Criminals impersonating the IRS often make aggressive threats – of arrest, court action, confiscation of property, or even deportation unless they make immediate payment on back taxes, says AARP fraud expert Kathy Stokes.

“We see repeatedly that scammers who impersonate the IRS work year-round at trying to swindle Americans, and they’re particularly relentless in April,” said Stokes, in a statement released with AARP’s new survey, ‘Experience and Knowledge of Tax Fraud.’ “While there’s no simple solution, you can outsmart cons: file your taxes early, before they beat you to it, shred financial documents you no longer need and beware of high-pressure tactics. The IRS will not call and threaten arrest for taxes owed, and they certainly won’t ask for a gift card as a form of payment, but imposters will,” adds Stokes.

AARP’s new phone poll, released on March 28, 2018, which surveyed 1,005 Americans ages 18 and older to gauge their experience and knowledge of fraud, reveals that people may have a false sense of security, as three-fifths (62 percent) report they’re either extremely confident or very confident in their ability to detect fraud.  Despite the confidence expressed by the respondents that fraud and scams are easy to recognize, the data from the survey indicate that most (80 percent) are concerned, with half saying that they are extremely or very concerned about becoming a target or victim of fraud.

But, AARP’s survey findings show that many consumers will fall victim to IRS scammers who will keep calling until they land victims, with one in four respondents (25 percent) receiving a phony call from someone impersonating an IRS agent over the last year. The IRS does not email or text for your information, but more than a quarter of respondents (26 percent) incorrectly believe or are uncertain about whether the IRS can text or email requests for personal or financial information.

Taking Responsibility to Fight Fraud

Although survey respondents say it is important to take precautions to deter scams, many do not putting themselves at risk for being a target or victim of fraud.  While most say it is extremely or very important to shred paper copies of financial or personal information, half reported that they only sometimes, rarely or never shred documents.  Over one in five indicate that they rarely or never do.

More than eight in ten (79 percent) say that they have not ordered a free copy of their credit report through annualcreditreport.com, this report could alert them if identify theft has occurred.

The survey also found that respondents are putting themselves at risk of fraud or identify theft by leaving valuable personal and financial information in unsecured places, like their car.  One in seven respondents admitted to leaving their checkbook in their car, while nearly a third say they left their purse or wallet in their car.

Knowledge Can Keep the Scammers Away

AARP believes that that gaining knowledge on how to avoid being scammed is key to not becoming a victim.  This is why AARP continues building on its antifraud efforts, currently a free fraud helpline (877-908-3360), by adding the survey, training webinars, a “Tax ID Theft” tip sheet, and a new podcast series, called “The Perfect Scam.” The series features tips from Frank Abagnale, whose personal story inspired the Spielberg film, “Catch Me if You Can,” who now advises the FBI on how to outsmart con artists. Also, the April issue of AARP Bulletin will more broadly examine fraud, including an exclusive interview with US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The Perfect Scam” podcast was launched on April 6 and will be available AARP’s website and on popular podcasting platforms.

For more details about the IRS scam and other tax-related frauds, visit here.  Consumers who think that they are being targeted by a scammer may call the AARP Fraud Helpline at 877-908-3360 and speak with a volunteer trained in fraud counseling.

The Federal Trade Commission encourages consumers to file a complaint whenever they have been the victim of fraud, identity theft, or other unfair or deceptive business practices. They can do it online, or by calling the FTC's Consumer Response Center at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, healthcare, and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

 

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