The IRS recently released a warning to taxpayers about new tricks by scam artists. With losses reaching the $20 million mark, it's imperative taxpayers take caution if they receive any phone suspicious phone calls with a caller ID notice that appears to be from the IRS or another government agency. The IRS identifies newly arrived immigrants and elderly citizens as the most likely victims of these scam phone calls. In an effort to take precaution, ensure your employees are updated about the recent IRS tax scam to protect their identity and your company's security.
What do individuals and businesses need to know to protect themselves, and what can they do to avoid being scammed?
What Does the IRS Say About This Scam and Its Operators?
The IRS warning explains that stolen personal information of intended victims allows scammers to easily impersonate IRS agents. According to victim and near-victim reports the IRS has received, many were told after answering the phone they needed to immediately send a payment to settle a tax debt, either through wire transfer or debit card. When the person being targeted refused or requested clarification of the debt owed, the person who called resorted to threats that included confiscation of vehicles, homes, businesses, and anything else of value, and also imprisonment. Scammers often use a masking device that changes the number displayed on caller ID devices to that of the IRS, making the call seem more official.
Others have received correspondence through email or US mail (both sometimes using IRS letterhead), with instructions to contact the fake IRS at a bogus number. When dialed, the caller is connected to someone posing as an IRS agent. Another type of the recent scams is a request for the victim to provide certain identifying details in order to ascertain if they are, or are not, the intended recipient of a tax refund from a prior year. This is a scheme to gain information that will be used later to scam the same individual of his or her money, or to obtain credit in that individual's name.
The IRS wants everyone to understand the following:
- IRS agents will not call about payments for taxes owed, nor for refunds due to individuals
- IRS agents will never threaten arrest, imprisonment, or confiscation for failure to pay taxes owed
- IRS agents are not allowed to take payment methods over the phone, and therefore will never demand payment be made with any specific method
- If the IRS is contacted by an individual or by a business, agents will work with individuals and businesses to arrive at a payment plan for any overdue taxes
- That all contact initiated by the IRS will only commence with mail sent through the USPS, and not through email or by phone
- IRS agents will discuss payment plans, appeals processes, and answer questions on the phone only when they are called
How can you protect your identity?
Understand IRS agents will never threaten or badger those contacted regarding taxes owed, nor will they contact prior to having sent a tax bill. Email is never used by the IRS, unless you have initiated contact with the agency first. The IRS will also not request identifying information, unless you initiated the call. You should only use the official IRS number, 1-800-829-1040, to contact the IRS, unless another number is provided to you by someone who you know is an agent. Any other numbers could cause you to phone a scammer.
How can businesses protect their employees?
Businesses should remember to download, and also install, updates to anti-virus and anti-malware software, as well as enable high firewall settings. Wireless internet settings should also have their security levels set high, and use encryption methods in addition to passwords. Using a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols will reduce the ability of hackers to gain entry.
Shredders should be used for paper documents instead of an outside service, and over-writing software should be used when deleting personal information from digital storage. Require employees who work remotely access files over secure networks, and avoid storing sensitive data on their laptops or flash drives, to reduce the chance of theft or loss.
What to Do if You Are Contacted by a Scammer
Remember, all email claiming to be from the IRS, or from an IRS-related component such as EFTPS, should be forwarded to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. Phishing attempts to gain personal information, over the phone or by USPS mail, should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.