We all know the saying about “death and taxes”, but sometimes it seems like scams should be added to that list. Every year, and probably even more frequently than that, scammers are coming up with clever new ways to trick taxpayers out of their personal information, money or both. In a year like 2020, the last thing anyone needs is to fall victim to one of these scams, so keep reading to make sure you know how to spot one of the newest traps going around.
As you probably know, earlier in the year many taxpayers received an Economic Impact Stimulus Payment of up to $1,200 as part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever since, there have been rumors circulating about an additional payment being disbursed at some point later in the year. To date, no such additional payment has been approved or scheduled, but that doesn’t stop criminals from trying to convince you otherwise for their own personal gain.
The nuts and bolts of the scam are as follows – you receive a text message stating something to the effect of “You have received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 TREAS FUND. Further action is required to accept this payment into your account. Continue here to accept this payment.” A link is then included which takes the victim to a fake IRS website where they are prompted to enter their personal information and bank account details. At that point, the scammers have collected enough information to at least attempt to commit identity theft, and possibly access your bank accounts. Not good.
The IRS encourages anyone who receives a suspicious text message such as the one above to take a screenshot of the message, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the date and time the message was received, the number that the text appeared to come from, and the taxpayer’s number which received the message. This information helps the IRS’ phishing and fraud department to investigate these scams and hopefully prevent others from falling victim.
As a reminder, the IRS will not email you or text you. Nor will they call you and threaten you with jail or other scary consequences, or demand immediate payment with your credit card or even gift cards. Yes, believe it or not the gift card scam is common as well. Apparently the bad guys think a lot of people will believe that the IRS accepts iTunes gift cards as a form of tax payment, and sadly there are plenty of people who fall for it.
Always be alert for potential tax scams (and other scams for that matter); remember that anytime you receive an unexpected email, call or text requiring immediate, urgent action with either a promise of great reward or severe consequence, be extremely wary. If you receive such a call purporting to be the IRS and are concerned that you might have a legitimate tax issue, hang up and contact either the IRS or your tax advisor directly. This way you know the person you are communicating with is legitimate, and not just another of the many scams out there.
Austin M. Bradley, CPA