Tax time is no fun -- especially when someone scams you out of your hard-earned cash. Here are three of the biggest scams hitting the ABC News Fixer’s mailbag – and how you can avoid them.
The fake IRS agent. Thousands of consumers nationwide have been getting phone calls from people posing as IRS employees. The scammers tell the consumer they’ve been audited and owe back taxes and say that if the person doesn’t pay right away, the matter is going to court. In some cases, they threaten immediate arrest and with immigrants, they may also threaten deportation. The bogus agent instructs the victim to send payment for their back taxes immediately, often by a pre-loaded debit card. The scammers have grown in sophistication, using “spoofed” fake phone numbers on their victims’ caller IDs. They may claim they’ve have already mailed information about an upcoming court date.
How to avoid it: Remember, the IRS will never contact you by phone or email if you owe money; nor will they ask for your personal financial information. If you owe the government money, you’ll get a bill in the mail. If you receive a scam call, hang up and report the number to IRS.gov and FTC.gov.
The stolen refund. This scam hit hard last year and officials are bracing again. Scammers use stolen Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and have the tax refunds sent directly to them. Most victims don’t find out until they try to file their own tax return and are told that someone else has already filed using their information. The IRS says it has flagged 19 million suspicious returns, but the scam is so prevalent, consumers continue to fall victim.
How to avoid it: Keep your Social Security number – and your children’s numbers – private. File your tax return as soon as possible, to beat the scammers to it. If you become a victim, get a police report right away and also report the theft to the IRS. Fill out an identity theft affidavit at IRS.gov. The bad news: it will take about 120 extra days before your return can be processed, and you’ll need to check your credit report for other fraud.
The bogus tax return preparer. The vast majority of return preparers are honest, but there are shady ones that set up shop and prepare false returns for a big percentage of the refund.
How to avoid it: Beware any tax return preparer that promises a big refund before looking at your records.
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.