Last minute tax filers face big league scams

Photo (c) LI Gorko - Getty Images

Use the IRS’ database of legit preparers and you could save yourself money and further harm

If you’re one of the 100 million U.S. taxpayers who have yet to file your taxes before the April 18 deadline, you might be hearing from some scammers who are out to make your life miserable and their lives richer.

And why not? Scammers made some $75 million off of IRS imposter tax scams in recent years, so in their mind, it’s “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” 

Steven Weisman at Scamicide alerted ConsumerAffairs to one particularly problematic issue for those who are filing electronically. Weisman says that his scam detectors are picking up the nasty scent of TurboTax impersonators calling unsuspecting taxpayers and telling them that their electronically filed income tax return has been rejected by the IRS.  

Once the identity thief gets someone’s interest, they then attempt to lure the victim into providing personal information including their Social Security number. Weisman said that in order to make the scammer’s call appear legitimate, they will use a technique called "spoofing" to manipulate a person’s Caller ID so that the call looks like it has come from TurboTax.

“As I often say, trust me, you can't trust anyone, particularly someone who is asking for you to provide sensitive personal information.  In this case, it is important to note that TurboTax will not call you if your tax return has been rejected unless you have specifically requested a call,” he said.  

What do you do if you receive one of these calls? The simplest answer is to hang up, but if a taxpayer wants to verify if the call is legitimate or not, they can call TurboTax at its customer service number of 1-800-446-8848.

Preparer fraud can have longterm effects

Let’s face it – doing your taxes can be a hassle, especially if you’re not clued into all the changes regarding deductions, child tax credits, etc. And that’s another wrinkle that scammers are trying to profit from – preparer fraud.

John Waggoner from AARP’s Fraud Watch Network described the setup like this: “The criminals set up shop as expert tax preparers and promise big refunds. For a fee, they fill out a return filled with trumped-up tax deductions and credits, with your name on the return. When the refund rolls in, it will go to their own bank accounts. By the time you come looking for them, they’ll be long gone.”

What are Waggoner’s warning signs that a tax preparer may be a fraud? He suggests the first stop being the IRS’ database of legitimate tax preparers. If the person on the other end of the phone refuses to sign the return or enter a Preparer Taxpayer Identification Number, drop everything and cut them off because the IRS requires both.

If you don’t, it’s not bad for them, but bad for you because the IRS will initially assume that it’s you who attempted tax fraud. 

Checking the IRS’ database needs to be done early, too. If you don’t put the brakes on a fraudulent tax preparer in the initial stages of doing business with them, things can get worse – much worse.

“If that person is willing to lie to get your business, they probably are willing to use your information to steal your identity,” says Rosario Mendez, an attorney with the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

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