Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: How to Protect Yourself from Tax Scams
February 25, 2013 by Jennifer Brandt
By Javier Sierra
Paying your taxes is not only an obligation for all those working in this country, but also one of the best ways to show your generosity and loyalty to the country that has welcomed you.
Without an efficient tax system, a modern society cannot exist. But, like about everything else in life, there are many out there ready to take advantage of other people’s goodwill and good heart by scamming them through fraudulent tax schemes.
These scams can cost your dearly, not only in money but also in problems with the authorities. That’s why I want to share with you some of the most common tax-related scams and how to defend yourself against them.
The most common one is identity theft. The criminal manages to get a hold of your personal information —such as your social security number (SSN), address and even your bank account information— to file a tax return with the IRS. The criminal then manages to receive the refund that legally belongs to you.
Usually, the victim finds out after filing his or her tax return. If you have been subject to a tax scam, immediately contact the IRS by calling 800-908-4490. The entity or firm that helped you prepare your filling, as long as you trust them completely, can help you in this process.
But prevention is always the best antidote. Never carry your social security card with you. Never give out your SSN or your individual tax identification number (ITIN), unless it is a legal requirement. Check out your credit report at last every 12 months. And never give out your personal information over the phone, fax or email unless you started the initial contact.
In fact, another way of illegally obtaining your personal information is by phishing, a scam usually carried out by unsolicited emails or websites requiring the victim to provide personal or financial information. Remember, the IRS will never contact you via email to request your personal information.
If you receive a suspicious email, do the following: Do not open it. Do not open any attachments. Don’t click on any links. Forward the email to the following IRS email: [email protected] After forwarding it, delete it. Do the same if you get any suspicious texts or SMSs.
Phishing can also be conducted by phone. If you get a call from the IRS and you suspect it can be a scam, request from the caller his or her phone number and his or her IRS badge number. Call the IRS to verify it is a legitimate call. And if you are convinced it is, then call back.
In these times of crisis, tax-related scams have increased remarkably. Some criminals try to convince their victims to file for a rebate, a refund or a tax credit they really are not entitled to.
The great majority of tax preparers are honest people who are only trying to help people fulfill their civic obligations. But too many of them cheat on their clients by promising impossible refunds or by charging them abusive fees for services that are offered by the IRS or its volunteers for free.
The preferred victims of these wolves in sheepskin are seniors and the poor, whom they promise fictitious refunds from their social security payments or end up stealing from them by using deceptive information or inflated numbers in their tax returns.
Beware of flyers or brochures promising free money from the IRS by showing little or no documentation. This scam has been spotted often in churches in the South and mid-West, where criminals take advantage of the goodwill and credibility of pastors and priests.
Remember: taxes are your contribution to the common good. Don’t let these wolves in sheepskin tax your generosity and sense of good citizenship.
For more bilingual information about your taxes, visit pormifuturo.org or call 800-206-9096.
Javier Sierra comments about issues of national interest for Latinos.