Few people are excited to be contacted by the Internal Revenue Service, unless they are expecting a big tax return. But unexpected audits are the least of your worries when the IRS comes calling. That’s because it may not be the agency at all — it may be a thief posing as a federal official, looking to steal your identity.
Such incidents have been well-documented in the past, but recently the IRS issued a new warning, telling taxpayers that their risk of being scammed may be increasing. As reported recently by the Sacramento Bee, the IRS believes that identity thieves are contacting people over the phone, by mail or through email to trick taxpayers into revealing personal financial information.
Recently, the agency has discovered that some thieves are going so far as to change how their number appears on caller ID, to lull the recipient into thinking that he or she really is speaking with an IRS official. From there, the fraudulent IRS representative will either tell their potential victim that they owe money or that they are due a refund, and convince them to repeat important personal information to either pay off the former or claim the latter. While elderly taxpayers are some of the most common victims of this ploy, it is important to remember that anyone can become a target if they are not careful.
Often, identity theft experts will warn taxpayers to be wary of mysterious phone calls from the IRS, reassuring them that the agency only sends letters. While this is technically true, there is growing evidence that some thieves are sending out their own letters with authentic-looking letterhead to fool their victims. They can even bolster their case by providing a victim’s name, address and other personal details. It can be quite difficult for the average person to tell the difference between these fraudulent letters and the real thing, especially for seniors and non-native English speakers.
Always remember: While the IRS may contact you from time to time, the agency never demands immediate payment, and will never require payment of any sort without giving you the opportunity to appeal.
Threat of new scams demands vigilance
There are a number of steps you can take if you believe that a caller is impersonating an IRS agent to acquire your personal data. The first step is to call the IRS on your own to confirm whether the original correspondence was genuine.
You should then check your credit history. Regular reviews of your credit report will help you determine whether your information has already been compromised. If it has, you may put an temporary freeze on your credit accounts to prevent thieves from doing further damage.
Finally, protect your electronic tax information with firewalls and other security software, as well as a strong password. Never use a public computer or Wi-Fi while submitting sensitive information. Phishing may be one method by which identity thieves can compromise your data, but it isn’t the only one.
For the best protection, consider signing up for a credit monitoring services that can alert you to certain activity on your credit file that may be indicative of fraud.