Shutdown Gives Tax Scammers New Opportunities to Steal

Scammers are increasingly capitalizing on the fears of taxpayers in order to illegally obtain personal and financial information. These scammers realize that, with an arsenal of collections weapons at their disposal – from liens to bank levies to wage garnishment – the IRS can be pretty intimidating. and effective. Using those same threats, scammers pose as IRS representatives seeking to collect back taxes.

For the last couple of years, these have been in the form of emails, until last week.

If you get a call from someone purporting to be from the IRS, you should contact your tax professional.

Here are a few reasons why these calls are suspicious:

1.      The IRS is shut done.  While they are accepting payments, the IRS is not currently staffed to be following up on taxpayer collections.

2.     You as the client are represented by counsel (your Tax preparer).  Your CPA has a Power of Attorney on file for the you for the years in question.  And while it’s not out of the question for IRS to contact a client without your CPA’s knowledge, the IRS is generally pretty good about extending notice for collections activities to agents with appropriate authorizations

3.     Notwithstanding the shutdown, we are currently negotiation with IRS on taxpayer’s behalf.  Typically, when you’re negotiation on outstanding tax liability, collections activities are on hold

4.     Finally, IRS is nothing if not dedicated to process.  There are procedures when reaching out to taxpayers about liens, levies and other collections activities – notice is essential for IRS to seize wages, accounts or other assets.  That generally happens by certified mail.  A phone call is not sufficient notice prior to seizure.

It turns out that there are a number of complaints about this very scheme. While the kind of scheme is not new, the frequency of these calls has increased dramatically over the past few weeks. Why now? Easy: the government shutdown.

Normally, if you are concerned about the legitimacy of a call, the IRS advises you to contact the IRS at 1.800.829.1040 to verify whether the call is legitimate. We’re on day #14 of the shutdown which means that the IRS is not answering the phone. That gives scammers increased opportunity to pressure taxpayers without fear of getting caught – at least immediately

If you receive a phone call allegedly from IRS and you believe it to be a scam, don’t give out any personal information. While a legitimate phone call from IRS might ask you to verify some information, the IRS will never ask you for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

The best thing to do is simply take a message – ask for a call back number and employee badge number – and then contact the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. If you need to contact IRS, you can hang tight until the lights are back on. Even if you do owe money and it is a legitimate call (though the odds are slim), the IRS has indicated that they are not issuing liens or levies while the government is shut down

If you’ve been threatened with physical harm, you should also contact the police.

You can report the scheme to TIGTA by calling 1.800.366.4484, going online and filling out a complaint, or sending an email.

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