It may be summertime, but that doesn’t mean that scammers are on vacation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is encouraging taxpayers to be on the lookout for a “surge of evolving phishing emails and telephone scams.”
The IRS is specifically warning about two new variations on existing, long-running tax-related scams. One of the scams tries to gather personally-identifiable information related to Social Security numbers (SSN), while another threatens people with a fake tax bill.
The SSN hustle. In what the IRS has termed “the SSN hustle,” scammers call and claim that they can suspend or cancel your Social Security number. As part of the con, scammers may try to convince you to give personal information, like Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, over the phone by claiming that your Social Security number is at risk of being deactivated or deleted; the threats may also suggest that you are in danger of losing your Social Security number because of overdue taxes.
Many of these calls are “robocalls” or automated calls. In one version of the scam, an automated recording declares that your Social Security number (SSN) “has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity” and advises you to contact a specific phone number immediately. The robocall or caller may also warn that if you don’t call back, your assets or benefits will be frozen until your alleged issue is resolved.
Don’t fall for the scam. Social Security numbers don’t have an expiration date, and you don’t have to reactivate or confirm them for them to be valid. And even if you owe taxes, your Social Security number is not affected. Do not call the number or engage with the scammer (even if you think you can get the better of them). Just hang up. You can also report the information to the Office of the Inspector General at 1.800.269.0271 or online.
(You can read more about the scam as reported last year here.)
The IRS says that phone scams are still “a major threat to taxpayers.” That’s why phishing and phone scams topped the 2019 “Dirty Dozen” list. The common thread in the list, according to the IRS: Scams put taxpayers at risk. As a reminder, the IRS will never threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying or demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
Fax tax agency. As taxpayers become more aware of scams, the bad guys are switching gears, too. Many taxpayers are aware that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the IRS call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. Now, scammers are trying to trick taxpayers by sending a letter first. The letter threatens an IRS lien or levy based on bogus delinquent taxes owed to a nonexistent agency called the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement.” There is no such agency. The lien notification may also reference the IRS to make you think that the letter is legitimate.
(You can find out more about real tax notices here.)
Don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s what to do instead:
- If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, just hang up.
- If you receive a robocall or telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
- If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
- Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email, don’t click on hyperlinks. A better bet is to go directly to the source’s main Web page.
- Use strong passwords to protect online accounts and use a unique password for each account. Longer is better, and don’t hesitate to lie about important details on websites since crooks may know some of your personal details.
- Use two- or multifactor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering your username and password, you typically enter a security code sent to your mobile phone or other device.
Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. And when in doubt, assume it’s a scam. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here.