While it can be very draining to always need to be vigilant, your financial health depends upon it.

The IRS, no wait, Social Security is calling you

Don’t let scammers make you a joker

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Donna H. Laubscher, CPA

April Fool’s Day was a couple of days ago, but the fraudsters and hackers are still out. They are always looking for a new way to not only initiate a scam against you, but to be financially successful (for them!) from the scam.

This may be difficult to believe, but there are already coronavirus scams out in the world. Or, unfortunately, maybe it isn’t hard to believe.

Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There are currently no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions or lozenges, either over the counter or via prescription, for this highly contagious disease. Also, watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization. You are better off just navigating straight to these sites. Here they are for your benefit. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

Don’t respond to emails or texts about checks from the government, and while you are social distancing, if someone comes to your door and offers a coronavirus home test, please do not let them in your home. There are no home tests for this disease.

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Finally, on the coronavirus scam alert front, there is an extortion email that threatens to infect you and your family with the coronavirus if you don’t pay a certain amount to them in bitcoin. This apparently works because they claim to know “every dirty little secret” about you. And to prove it? They have one of your passwords from a breached website. If you receive this, please just change your passwords.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating. The Internal Revenue Service will never reach out to you by phone. They will always send a notice to the mailing address they have on file for you, generally from the last tax return that was filed. Of course, I have a client who is very fraud savvy. She actually received an IRS notice in the mail and threw it out, because she assumed it was a scam! Luckily, I had a power of attorney and had also received a copy of the notice, so we were able to get the issue cleared up.

For years, we have been warning you that the IRS will not reach out via email. Well, apparently, they may temporarily be reaching out via email to transmit documents via email, using secure messaging methods. This is due to the number of employees, even those at the IRS, who are working remotely in our current environment. The IRS will even allow employees to accept documents via email.

Anyway, if by some chance you do owe the federal government money, they will not ask for payment via gift cards. What would the federal government do with gift cards – use it as some sort of a bartering system with China regarding tariffs? Not very likely, right?

All of us, even me, a seasoned, experienced (another way of saying older!) tax professional, have received these phone calls. Don’t try to keep them on the line to play a game with them. It really isn’t very satisfying. Though, I did lecture one of the scammers calling me, but that is a completely different story!

Perhaps they thought IRS scams had run their course, with imminent threats of sheriff’s posses coming to arrest you. The scammers then moved on to impersonating our fine civil servants from the Social Security Administration and threatened to “freeze” your social security number. First, your number cannot be frozen. Secondly, why would anyone owe the Social Security Administration money?

But wait, there are still more and different kinds of scams. Have you heard of the romance scams? While many people may find the love of their life online, there are also plenty of scammers looking for more than love or even friendship. Here are some signs to look for so you’re not love-blind. Are the messages poorly written or ambiguous? Do they get too personal too soon with things like a medical illness or bad luck story? Their conversations may not have good grammar or do not match their online profile. So, take your time with these so the person whom you consider a potential partner does not consider you a potential mark.

Email and phishing scams from financial institutions are still very popular as well. I am sure you have seen these. An email claiming to be from a financial institution saying that your account may have been breached and you need to log on, enter your credentials or use your social security number to fix the issue immediately! However, before you click on any link in an email, please dive a bit deeper into the actual email itself. Look to see who the actual sender of the email is. For example, if the email subject says that it is from Chase Bank, then the email address should somehow reflect Chase bank after the @ symbol, not some other completely irrelevant series of letters or numbers. The problem with these emails is that if you do click on the link, they have set up a completely believable fake website. If you want to make sure, go to your actual financial institution website and check. Or call the number on the back of your credit card.

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But wait, there’s more! If you are in my profession you may be looking forward to the end of tax season which has been extended to July 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps you want to go see a concert or a sporting event when they start back up (Go Diamondbacks!) with some of your free time. In these scams, consumers are tricked into buying fake tickets. The tickets either have forged bar codes or are duplicate copies of legitimate tickets. Perhaps the tickets do not arrive at all. Use some precautions when purchasing tickets online.

There is one final type of scam. I call it the payroll scam. An email pretending to be from the president or CEO of a company sends an email to someone in the payroll department, requesting copies of all employee W-2s – immediately! Stop and think about that – why would they need that information?

While it can be very draining to always need to be vigilant, your financial health depends upon it. By the way, when I was writing this article, I wanted to search for the place to report scams. When I started typing in my search, the first item that came up was “How to be a successful scammer” so goodness only knows what my search history looks like now!

Oh, and the place to report a scam is with the Federal Trade Commission, no joke. Click here (for real, not a scam!) to get to their website. And please, don’t be the butt of a scammer’s April Fool’s Day joke.

For more information and resources on COVID-19, see our coronavirus page. Feel free to contact your Henry+Horne tax adviser with any questions.

Donna H. Laubscher, CPA, Partner, specializes in tax planning and consulting for individuals. She can be reached at DonnaL@hhcpa.com or (480) 483-1170.