Tax scams trigger IRS warnings to taxpayers

The already bad situation with tax identity theft has gotten worse, so much so that the IRS has released two public service announcements warning people of the importance of protecting their identity.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has placed advertisements in English and Spanish on Youtube that warn against tax evaders (https://www.youtube.com/user/TIGTAVIDEOS). The twin victims of criminals are the taxpayers and the government: the more the government can deter illegal activity, the better off the taxpayers and the treasury.

Tax scammers use a variety of schemes to separate individuals, businesses, and nonprofits from their money; their heist tools are mainly phone, email and even SMS.

The realistic-looking elements of a fraudulent email are such that a Knoxville man who knows such criminal enterprises exist nevertheless called a phone number that alerted him to a problem. As he spoke to the person answering, he noticed on closer inspection a grammatical error in the body of the message.

He said, “It’s a scam, isn’t it?” The response, he said, was a flood of profanity from the man on the phone peeling the paint off a Navy ship. The Knoxville man eluded the victim, but it was close.

In phone calls, people posing as IRS agents calling about a tax matter can come across as authoritative and convincing — or angry and intimidating. Their tactics can range from polite requests to threats of arrest and jail. What they want is your money now. Any delay and they know they probably won’t get anything.

The PSA says the IRS “always” initiates contact with taxpayers via US Mail. However, the agency’s website indicates that the first contact with a taxpayer is “normally” by mail. Normally does not always mean which means that increased vigilance on the part of taxpayers is necessary.

Additionally, “IRS officers and tax officials routinely make unannounced visits to a taxpayer’s home or establishment to discuss taxes owed, delinquent tax returns, or overdue business. on payroll tax deposits,” the agency’s website reads.

That said, what should a taxpayer do?

If you receive an email, phone call, or text message in which someone pretends to be from the IRS and demands payment immediately, this is attempted theft. Hang up or do not respond to the email or text message.

If you receive official-looking documents by regular mail that demand immediate payment of taxes due, it is almost certainly a scam. If someone appears, advertised or unadvertised, at a home or business saying they are from the IRS, the agency says they should have two forms of identification, a pocket commission and a personal identity verification.

But in a world where fake things can look or feel very real, and where even a car can be made with specialized printers, how can you be sure credentials are real?

Another IRS webpage provides guidance (https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/how-to-know-its-really-the-irs-calling-or-knocking-on-your-door- collection).

Following the IRS’ advice on how to contact the agency is definitely good practice.

Nevertheless, if in doubt, get the number of an IRS office with no doubt about it and call. You might not pass right away. Its good. If the people contacting you are legitimately from the IRS, this shouldn’t be a problem for them, because the IRS is the agency warning everyone to be on the lookout for tax scams and to take precautions.

It’s a twist on an old adage: Trust, maybe, but verify, definitely.

Jimmy Rodefer is CEO of Rodefer Moss & Co., headquartered in Knoxville, and with offices in Tennessee and Virginia. Contact him at www.rodefermoss.com/Knoxville.

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