By Gary Jenkins
BAPA Safety Liaison
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it did not take long for scammers and fraudsters to apply their trade. Pandemic-related scams range from telephone and email scams to unemployment insurance fraud, to the most recent, vaccination card fraud. As you might expect, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 2020 version of the tax fraud “dirty dozen” places an emphasis on schemes related to COVID-19. Following are some of those scams from IRS website/
Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or websites aimed at stealing personal or bank account information or passwords, or playing on people’s fears. The IRS will never contact with taxpayers via email about a tax bill, refund or Economic Impact Payments. New phishing schemes use keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “Stimulus” in various ways. Don’t click on links claiming to be from the IRS.
Criminals frequently exploit situations such as the pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal from well-intentioned people trying to help in times of need. Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, e-mail or in-person. Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information. They may even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
Taxpayers can find legitimate and qualified charities using the search tool on IRS.gov.
Impersonator Phone Calls
IRS impersonation scams come in many forms, including bogus threatening phone calls from a criminal claiming to be with the IRS. Phone scams or “vishing” (voice phishing) include calls threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill. These are often “robocalls,” text-to-speech recorded messages with instructions for returning the call.
The IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or demand for immediate payment or ask for financial information over the phone.
Social Media Scams
Social media enables anyone to share information on the Internet, and scammers use that information to impersonate someone’s family, friends or co-workers with the intent of tax-related identity theft. Do not trust messages soliciting small donations to fake charities that are appealing to the victims. Always make sure you are communicating with someone you know and trust.
EIP or Refund Theft
Criminals are stealing Economic Impact Payments provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Much of this stems from identity theft whereby criminals file false tax returns or supply other bogus information to the IRS to divert refunds to wrong addresses or bank accounts.
Taxpayers can consult the Coronavirus Tax Relief page at IRS.gov for assistance in getting their EIPs. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of identity theft should consult the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft at IRS.gov.
Seniors are more likely to be targeted and victimized by scammers than other segment of society. Financial abuse of seniors is a problem among personal and professional relationships. As older Americans become more comfortable with evolving technologies, such as social media, scammers find new means of taking advantage. Seniors need to be on alert for fake emails, text messages, websites and social media that attempt to steal personal information.
Unscrupulous Return Preparers
Selecting the right income tax return preparer is important. Most qualified tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but dishonest preparers pop up every filing season to commit fraud.
With many tax professionals impacted by COVID-19 and closing offices, taxpayers should take particular care in selecting a credible tax preparer. By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assists in preparing federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Avoid preparers who ask them to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at the taxpayer’s records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund.
Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of their tax return, regardless of who prepares it. Taxpayers can go to a special page on IRS.gov for tips on choosing a preparer.
Find the complete Dirty Dozen article and other valuable information on the Internal Revenue Service website, irs.gov.