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Tax season reminder about tax scams: Hang up - it's not the IRS

This tax season may prove to be especially confusing. First, taxpayers have to remember the tax extenders that passed at the last minute. Then, taxpayers have to remember that the IRS has admitted that customer service is a low priority, thanks to budget cuts -- and refunds will likely be delayed.

Unfortunately, our frustrations are easily fodder for scammers. The Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration has issued a renewed warning to taxpayers about telephone calls from the IRS.

The IRS will not call a taxpayer about a tax debt. It isn't really the IRS on the other end of an unsolicited phone call. The agency's resources are stretched so thin that hardly anyone will be answering the phone, much less picking it up to make a call. The IRS will write first -- on paper, delivered by snail mail.

Also, these illegal operations are not limited to taxpayers in the United States. Taxpayers abroad are also at risk and should be just as wary.

If you receive a call, report it to TIGTA on its website or by phone (800-366-4484). The Federal Trade Commission wants to know about scams, too, so report the call at www.FTC.gov with "IRS telephone scam" included in the comment section.

Your report to TIGTA will join the 290,000 others the office has received in the past 18 months or so. The office can confirm that nearly 3,000 taxpayers have fallen victim to the scammers' aggressive, even ruthless tactics. Total lost? More than $14 million. This is big business.

Don't think for a minute that the victims just fell for a line or were especially gullible. Not only are the fraudsters relentless, but they may also know the last four digits of the target's Social Security number, and they can rig caller ID to read IRS or something equally convincing. They give the targets their (fake) names, even (fake) badge numbers. They do everything a rational person would expect a government employee to do.

But then they ask for money. They want the target to pay using a prepaid credit card -- untraceable, uninsured, as good as cash -- and once a target is so intimidated that he or she makes the payment, the scam artists call again and ask for more money. If payment is not made, they threaten legal action. They back up the phone calls with emails full of false information that, again, can be quite convincing.

A friend shared with us how she handles these calls. "As soon as the caller says he's from the IRS, I interrupt him and say, 'No you're not. You are a liar and a thief.' I can hear him yelling as I hang up. It's immensely satisfying."

Source: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, "J. Russell George Urges Taxpayers to Be on "High Alert" to Phone Fraud Scam," Jan. 21, 2015

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