$21B: Tax scammers eye repeat of 2016 haul

via $21B: Tax scammers eye repeat of 2016 haul, clarionledger,com

PDF: Tax scammers 2018

Each year about this time, Mississippi taxpayers gather their shoeboxes full of receipts and forms, preparing for the annual ritual of filing their taxes. Since Monday marked the official beginning of 2018 tax season, it’s also the time when scammers greedily eye the billions of dollars in potential loot as we file our taxes. And it’s a big haul, too: the IRS estimated that tax scammers took in $21 billion in 2016.

Monday also marked the start of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, which highlights some of the risks and scams that seek to cash in on your taxes. Each year, millions of taxpayers get a nasty surprise when they file their taxes: somebody’s already claimed their refund by using their Social Security number. Often, they don’t know their identity has been stolen until they get a letter from the IRS to let them know more than one tax return has been filed in your name.

Although these scams are still going strong, there is some good news: Efforts to thwart tax-related identity theft appear to be working. In 2017, fewer people complained to the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies about tax-related identity theft than in previous years (the second year of decreases in a row). Last year, about 22 percent of identity-theft complaints concerned tax-related activity, down significantly from 2016’s number of 33 percent.

IRS imposters activity appears to be declining as well. IRS imposters call consumers to claim they’re from the IRS, and often use scare tactics and threat of prosecution if they don’t pay immediately. Calls about IRS imposters dropped off by more than half in 2017.

But another type of tax-related fraud appears to be growing. The “W-2 Scam” (otherwise known as Business Email Compromise or BEC) is targeting businesses, educational institutions and organizations. In this diabolical ruse, scammers send an email that appears to be from the IRS (“phishing”), requesting copies of all employees’ W-2 forms. Of course, the W-2 is a virtual smorgasbord of information for scammers, containing official names and addresses, Social Security numbers, income and withholdings. “Criminals use that information to file fraudulent tax returns, or post it for sale on the Dark Net,” noted the IRS in a news release. Business Email Compromise scams cost companies $5 billion worldwide each year, added the FBI.

Hundreds of businesses, institutions, nonprofits and government agencies have all been fooled in 2017 by the official-looking emails. The IRS notes that the fraudsters often do their homework on businesses, finding the CEO or others in positions of authority. Once the victim has taken the bait, many victims reported that they get a follow-up email requesting funds by wire transfer. The emails are reportedly so good they have fooled many experienced executives who never thought they’d fall for a scheme like that.

The IRS advises it could be weeks or months before you realize you’ve been scammed. But if you have, report it immediately to dataloss@irs.gov, using “W2 Data Loss” in the subject line. And, the IRS cautions, don’t attach any sensitive information. For more on the W2 scam from the IRS, visit http://bit.ly/2ohM4D1.

While you may be eagerly awaiting your tax refund this year, be aware that crooks are out there, too. As always, being vigilant, aware and a little bit skeptical can often be the best protection.

Contact Bill Moak at moakconsumer@gmail.com.

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IRS scams starting early this year

via IRS scams starting early, clarionledger.com

PDF: IRS Scams off to early start 1IRS Scams off to early start 2

As each new year begins, so does tax-scam season. Consumer watchdogs, regulatory agencies and consumer writers like me start warning people about tax cons. Usually, we start ringing the warning bells sometime in January. But this year, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is sending out an early warning about scammers seeking to swindle you out of your tax refunds or scaring you into sending money.

Few things strike fear into the heart of John Q. Taxpayer as a call or urgent letter from the IRS, demanding payment. And of course, crooks know this and are looking to cash in. This week, Hood’s office sent out a news release revealing that they’d received recent reports from Mississippi consumers who were contacted by people claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service or Treasury Department and demanding payment.

“These con artists are intimidating and sound convincing and can even alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling,” Hood warned. “The number one thing to remember is that if the IRS needs to contact you, they’ll do it by postal mail first, and they will not threaten to arrest or sue you.” Hood added that the callers usually use frightening language such as, “This is your official final notice — the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you.”

“The caller claims the consumer owes money to the IRS and insists that it be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer,” he said. “If the victim refuses to cooperate, the scammer threatens the victim by stating that he or she will be arrested or that a lawsuit will be filed against them.”

Hood recounted another version of the scam, in which the scammer claims the victim has a refund available, but need a bank account number or other private information to process and deposit it. Often, the caller leaves an “urgent” callback request. Crooks have also been known to use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers.

If you think you owe the IRS any amount, call (800) 829-1040 to get advice on payment. If you get such a call, and know you don’t owe anything, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 or visit www.tigta.gov.

Here are some other tips, courtesy of Hood’s Office of Consumer Protection:

  • Don’t answer the phone for a number you don’t recognize or that shows up as your own. If you do answer, hang up as soon as you realize it is a scam. Even answering simple questions in the affirmative or negative could be used to try to scam you.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who is vague or evasive in identifying themselves.
  • Never wire or send money in any form to unfamiliar people or organizations.
  • Don’t give out personally identifiable information; it could expose you to identity theft.

If you suspect your personal information has been compromised or think you’ve been a victim of fraud, identity theft or any other scam, call the Consumer Protection Division at (800) 281-4418. For more tips, visit http://www.ago.state.ms.us/releases/ag-hood-reminds-mississippians-of-fake-irs-collectors/.

Survey: Most Americans plan to save tax refunds

1040ez

turbotax

From Tax Refund: Consumers bank on it, clarionledger.com

PDF: saving-tax-refunds

Like clockwork, scammers are attempting to get at Mississippians’ tax refunds again. Each year, more and more people find themselves victimized by a variety of scams designed to steal their identities for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns.
Many taxpayers have tried to file their taxes online, only to find out someone had already filed in their name, grabbing their refunds. While not a new phenomenon, the amount of tax-related cybercrime has increased this year in both numbers and sophistication.

Recently, Attorney General Jim Hood warned that Mississippi residents could be targeted by scammers trying to collect data from W-2 forms, in a new twist on a couple of old scams. Hood cited reports from the Internal Revenue Service warning business owners to be careful in providing information about employees.

The scheme works like this: A scammer sends an email to an employee in Human Resources at the business, carefully crafted to look as if it comes from the CEO or another known corporate executive. The message asks for copies of W-2 forms of all employees, and sometimes is followed by a second email requesting money be wired to a specific bank account.

Hood urged Mississippi residents to be suspicious of any such unsolicited emails and to always verify by phone that the request is legitimate.

“We have received calls and reports to our office this week from entities whose employees have fallen for this type of scam,” Hood said. “Employees who would have W-2 information, such as accounting or human resources personnel, are particularly susceptible to this scam. All types of organizations are possible targets, including schools, health care organizations, nonprofits and private businesses.”

Hood noted the scam, which first appeared a year ago, is circulating earlier in the tax season. Some businesses which got the emails last year are being targeted again.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in a news release. “It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme.”

If businesses get such an email, forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line, and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), operated by the FBI. In addition, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Employees whose W-2s have been stolen should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft resources at http://www.identitytheft.gov,or the IRS’ site at http://www.irs.gov/identitytheft, to learn how to report the theft and get advice on what to do next. They should also file IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return rejects because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

And, the IRS notes, just because someone isn’t required to file a return or isn’t expecting a refund doesn’t mean they can’t be a victim. In all cases, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file taxes as soon as possible, before scammers can file and steal your identity and refund.

AG Jim Hood, IRS warn about W-2 scam

part-psn-56039599so001_taxes-1-1-0

yahoo.com

From AG Jim Hood, IRS warn about W-2 scam, clarionledger.com

PDF: tax-scam

Like clockwork, scammers are attempting to get at Mississippians’ tax refunds again. Each year, more and more people find themselves victimized by a variety of scams designed to steal their identities for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns.

Many taxpayers have tried to file their taxes online, only to find out someone had already filed in their name, grabbing their refunds. While not a new phenomenon, the amount of tax-related cybercrime has increased this year in both numbers and sophistication.

Recently, Attorney General Jim Hood warned that Mississippi residents could be targeted by scammers trying to collect data from W-2 forms, in a new twist on a couple of old scams. Hood cited reports from the Internal Revenue Service warning business owners to be careful in providing information about employees.

The scheme works like this: A scammer sends an email to an employee in Human Resources at the business, carefully crafted to look as if it comes from the CEO or another known corporate executive. The message asks for copies of W-2 forms of all employees, and sometimes is followed by a second email requesting money be wired to a specific bank account.

Hood urged Mississippi residents to be suspicious of any such unsolicited emails and to always verify by phone that the request is legitimate.

“We have received calls and reports to our office this week from entities whose employees have fallen for this type of scam,” Hood said. “Employees who would have W-2 information, such as accounting or human resources personnel, are particularly susceptible to this scam. All types of organizations are possible targets, including schools, health care organizations, nonprofits and private businesses.”

Hood noted the scam, which first appeared a year ago, is circulating earlier in the tax season. Some businesses which got the emails last year are being targeted again.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in a news release. “It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme.”

If businesses get such an email, forward it to phishing@irs.gov and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line, and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), operated by the FBI. In addition, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Employees whose W-2s have been stolen should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft resources at http://www.identitytheft.gov,or the IRS’ site at http://www.irs.gov/identitytheft, to learn how to report the theft and get advice on what to do next. They should also file IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return rejects because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

And, the IRS notes, just because someone isn’t required to file a return or isn’t expecting a refund doesn’t mean they can’t be a victim. In all cases, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file taxes as soon as possible, before scammers can file and steal your identity and refund.

 

AGs make case for Internet sales tax

via AGs make case for Internet sales tax

If you didn’t pay sales taxes the last time you bought something online, you can thank a 1992 Supreme Court decision known as Quill Corp. vs. North Dakota. It all started when the state of North Dakota tried to make Quill Corp., which sold office supplies, collect sales taxes on floppy disks it sold by mail order. The Supreme Court ruled that North Dakota could not make Quill collect sales taxes on remote sales, in effect because it didn’t have a physical location in the state. The decision came with a complex legal argument in which the court eventually suggested the law could be overturned by Congress.

The decision set an important precedent, which has been applied broadly in our online-ordering world. But several attorneys general, including Mississippi’s Jim Hood, have said it’s time for online retailers without a physical location in the state to start collecting taxes from Mississippi residents who buy items from them. In a “friend-of-the-court” brief, Hood and 10 of his counterparts have asked the court to overturn the decision and hear arguments in a newer case.

“More and more, the marketplace is moving from Main Street to the Information Superhighway, and our local merchants are at an unfortunate disadvantage,” Hood said in a news release. “If local stores are unable to compete with out-of-state online retailers, we lose jobs, an important tax base and a critical investment in our communities. We’re asking the Supreme Court to even the playing field for merchants and to allow the states to gain the revenue that should be due to them.”

Hood and other state attorneys general encouraged the court to hear arguments in a Colorado case called Direct Marketing Association vs. Brohl and reconsider the question of whether states can collect sales tax on internet purchases.

In a news release, Hood cited U.S. Census Bureau figures reporting that U.S. retailers made about $300 billion in 2014, with e-commerce accounting for nearly 7 percent of all retail sales that year. Online sales were up more than 15 percent from the previous year, a trend expected to continue since most Americans own smartphones that often come preloaded with online shopping apps.

Any move to collect sales tax from online purchases have been met with reluctance and outright opposition from retailers. Among other objections, they cite the nation’s labyrinthine sales tax system, in which sales tax rates can vary significantly by the address of the purchaser, and complicated by individual sales tax rates in thousands of communities. In their brief, however, Hood and other attorneys general argue this problem is easily resolved with software that can calculate sales tax rates.

Hood noted, in his release, that collecting sales tax on purchases would benefit the state by infusing cash into a state government that has seen layoffs and cutbacks in services. Other states have addressed the issue with their own efforts to work with e-commerce giant Amazon and others.

“At least 13 states now have laws to levy sales taxes on purchases through third-party affiliates like Amazon, for example,” Hood said. “Courts in New York have upheld this type of tax, and I will be asking the Legislature to stand up for our local businesses and adopt a similar tax next year. I also remain hopeful that the brief we filed today will move the Supreme Court toward opening the door for states to collect sales tax on all internet sales.”

How to check out your tax preparer

tax123

bankrate.com

via Moak: How to check out your tax preparer, clarionledger.com, 2/9/2016

Now that most of us have gotten our W2’s, 1099s and various other documents required to do our taxes, businesses and individuals who prepare those taxes are kicking into high gear. You have until April 18 this year to get your individual taxes done, but many of us aren’t waiting.

Finding someone to prepare your taxes is easy. A simple Google search (or a few minutes in front of a local TV channel) will provide you with a wide variety of choices. But increasingly, many consumers have found themselves scammed by shady preparers, finding out their well-meaning-but-incompetent preparer got it wrong, or finding out their preparer misrepresented his or her credentials.

Our tax system allows you to get your taxes done by anybody you want (including yourself). To be a paid tax preparer, all the law requires is that you have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). But if you want to find people who are really qualified, you should do a little research.

The Internal Revenue Service has a tool to help you find qualified preparers. Keep in mind not every preparer can go the distance with you if you have problems with the IRS; the ability of some agents to represent you before the IRS is limited by law. The database allows you to search by zip code or last name, and includes the following:

  • Attorneys. Attorneys must possess a current license.
  • Certified Public Accountants. CPAs must be in good standing with their state Board of Accountancy.
  • Enrolled Agents. These preparers must pass a three-part examination, which requires they demonstrate their proficiency and knowledge, and they must complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years.
  • Enrolled Actuaries. These people have a license from an organization called the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries.
  • Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents. These individuals are licensed by the IRS and (like enrolled agents) must pass a special exam and 72 hours of continuing education every three years.
  • Annual Filing Season participants. These people may not fall in one of the above categories, but the IRS recognizes them as official agents if they complete a certain number of continuing hours in preparation for the specific tax year. Their ability to represent your interests before the IRS is not as broad as those in other categories.

It’s also advisable to check them out by doing an Internet search, or asking for recommendations from friends. Keep in mind, just because someone is on the list, doesn’t mean they will do your taxes for you. It’s up to the individual preparers (and their firms) to determine whether they will take your case. Fees vary, so it’s a good idea to find out their rates in advance.

Here are a few other suggestions (visit irs.gov to get more advice):

  • Never sign a blank return.
  • Always review your return before signing. Once you sign it, you are certifying its completeness and truth, so you should check everything to make sure it’s accurate and honest.
  • Report abuses immediately. If you suspect your preparer has acted dishonestly, report the issue as soon as possible to law enforcement or the IRS.
  • Understand your rights. Visit https://www.irs.gov/Taxpayer-Bill-of-Rights to find out what rights you have as a taxpayer.

Entergy sponsoring free tax help on Feb. 6

tax help

meridenlibrary.org

via Moak: Entergy sponsoring free tax help on Feb. 6, clarionledger.com, 1/27/2016

It’s tax season, and for many of us, filing our taxes has never been more difficult. Tax laws are only getting more complex, and with the addition of the Affordable Care Act and other recent changes, many consumers are bewildered.

But there is reason to hope. There are many agencies and organizations who can help negotiate the maze of tax laws and help us file our returns and provide answers. On Feb. 6, residents can take advantage of Super Tax Day, sponsored by Entergy Mississippi and local United Way organizations. Volunteers certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will help local residents file their taxes free of charge, and help determine if they qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program and other refunds and credits.

Current Super Tax Day sites in Mississippi include the Jackson Medical Mall and the M.R. Dye Library in Horn Lake. Both sites will be active from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; more sites may be added later.

According to the IRS, EITC benefits families or individuals earning up to nearly $54,000 in 2015, and can benefit a family up to $6,200 (based upon the number of children in the household). “The IRS reports that 20 percent of EITC funds are unclaimed each year simply because people don’t know they are available,” noted Entergy’s Mara Hartmann in a news release.

“It’s clear from the numbers and the research that helping our customers apply for and receive these available tax credits makes a significant economic impact, both for the customer and the local community,” said Robbin Jeter, Entergy Mississippi vice president of customer service. “Entergy’s Super Tax Day events are one of the many ways we power life in our communities.”

According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, EITC is one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs, helping lift millions out of poverty, leading to better school performance, improving infant and maternal health, and even leading to increased graduation and attendance rates.

“Entergy’s support to Super Tax Days and VITA in the four states its utilities serve — Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — has resulted in approximately 74,000 customers receiving $126 million through the EITC program since 2011,” Hartmann noted. “In Mississippi more than 10,200 residents have received nearly $22.9 million since Entergy Mississippi launched the program by partnering with local advocates.”

Hartmann also noted the company-wide program has brought in $189 million in economic benefits in Entergy’s service area, once you factor in “multiplier effects” to local communities.

To learn more about the program, visit entergy.com/eitc.

Safeguarding against tax identity theft

Tax fraud image with grunge effect

via Moak: Safeguarding against tax identity theft, clarionledger.com, 1/22/2016

In February of last year, many consumers filed their tax returns, eagerly awaiting the refund that was sure to come. But when they went to file their taxes, they got an unwelcome surprise: someone had already gone in and filed returns in their name, in the process swiping their refunds electronically.

It turned out identity thieves had stolen information from 2013 tax returns, then used that information to file new returns in 2015. Both federal and state returns were affected. Once the fraud had been detected (according to the Wall Street Journal), several states shut down their tax return processing for a few days, and Intuit, owner of the self-tax-filing company Turbotax, temporarily halted filing of state returns.

As of May, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported that it had identified more than 163,000 fraudulent returns, and was able to halt $787 million from going into the hands of scammers.

The brash action caught nearly everybody by surprise, but the issue had been on the radar of the IRS for years. According to the IRS, the agency had been following a major increase in tax identity theft cases, with the number of IRS investigations surging from 276 in 2011 to 1,492 in 2013. The IRS noted that its investigations into tax identity theft sent people to prison about 85 percent of the time in 2013, and that the number of fraud cases had been cut in half from 2013 to 2015 (the IRS credited its aggressive enforcement for the drop.)

There are some signs that this year will see its share of tax-related ID theft. Already, two states (Illinois and North Dakota) have announced they will be delaying processing of refunds because of fraud concerns.

But fake filing is not the only way scammers try to get their mitts on your hard-earned money: they also deceive thousands of consumers each year by calling and claiming to represent the IRS or another federal agency such as the Social Security Administration. In total, tax identity theft accounted for nearly a third of identity theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, generating about 109,000 complaints.

To help raise awareness of how to protect us from tax identity thieves, the FTC and other agencies will be holding Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week during Jan. 25-29. The event will try to increase awareness that there is a single point for information about identity theft called Identitytheft.gov.

The events will be coordinated across multiple agencies and organizations, including the FTC, IRS, AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, the Department of Veterans Affairs and others. Activities will include webinars, Twitter chats and events across the nation. For a list of events, visit ftc.gov/taxidtheft.

In the meantime, the IRS suggests these actions to help prevent a repeat of last year’s theft events:

  • Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections, and strong passwords.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS. Neither the IRS nor any federal agency will call you or email you to request financial or personal information.
  • Don’t click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure.

In general, if you file for a refund, but get a notice that a return has already been filed, you should report the crime immediately to the IRS at 800-908-4490. Also, once the crime has been confirmed, it’s a good idea to have a fraud alert placed on your credit reports, to avoid problems later and to prevent further theft. You can learn how by visiting http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0008-tax-related-identity-theft

Tax scam targets Mississippians

via Moak: Tax scam targets Mississippians, clarionledger.com, 11/3/2015.

I got an urgent call yesterday from my Dad, rattled by a phone call. “I just got off the phone with somebody who said the IRS was about to sue me, then hung up,” he said. Now, if you know my dad, he’s as honest as they come, and so was shocked at hearing this “news.” Taking the number, I told him I would check it out. It turns out that a lot of Mississippians are getting the same call.

“These scammers continue to search for their next victim before, during and even after tax season,” noted Meredith Aldridge, director of the Consumer Protection Division for Attorney General Jim Hood’s office.

It turns out this is an old scam, and for some reason, Mississippians are lately being targeted.

It’s difficult to determine exactly who is perpetrating this scheme, but it’s always pretty much the same. Scammers claim to represent the IRS or Treasury Department, and claim you not only owe the IRS immediately, but they’ll sue you if you don’t pay. If you know how the IRS actually operates, the lie is immediately apparent — if you’re on its radar, you’ll know it well before this point. You will never be surprised, because the IRS simply doesn’t operate that way.

According to Aldridge, targets might be lured in with a potential refund, but they have to provide personal information to claim it. “These con artists are intimidating and sound convincing, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers,” noted Aldridge’s office in a news release. “They may even know a lot about their targets, and they may even alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.”

“The answer is simple for this and other similar phone scams,” Aldridge advises. “Do not share or verify any personal information over the phone.  If it sounds too good to be true or is suspicious, don’t take the action requested.”

Here are a few more tips:

  • The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill and allowing you to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • They won’t require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, or request that you wire a payment, or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • They won’t threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying. If they did that, many famous tax cheats would long ago have gone to jail by now.
  • Finally, they won’t use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds.

If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe the IRS any amount, Aldridge urges you to call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040, and request to speak to someone about payment. If you know you don’t owe anything, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800­366-4484 or at http://www.tigta.gov.

More tips are available at http://www.agjimhood.com, or by calling 1-800-281-4418.

Hood: Tax scammers at it again

Although it’s been two months since the primary tax deadline, scammers are still trying to collect from gullible Mississippians.

State Attorney General Jim Hood reminded taxpayers that scammers are calling consumers and impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service. Hood told Mississippians in a Tuesday news release to use common sense if approached by someone with a phone pitch.

“The answer is simple for this and other similar phone scams — listen to your instincts. If something sounds too good to be true or is suspicious, don’t take the action requested,” he advised.

Tax scammers have been especially busy this year. Very early in tax season, scammers stole the identities — and refunds — of thousands of taxpayers. And in May, the IRS warned consumers about a “phishing” email, which asks consumers to provide personal information with a plea to “update your IRS file.”

This time, according to Hood’s office, the scammers are calling Mississippians claiming to be calling from the IRS. “The victim is told he or she owes money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer,” the releasenoted. “If the victim refuses to cooperate, the scammer threatens the victim with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license.”

In addition, victims may be told they have a refund in an effort to trick them into sharing private information. “If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an ‘urgent’ callback request,” Hood noted. “These con artists can sound convincing when they call, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.”

Hood notes the IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment. Nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds.

So, if you are contacted by a scammer, Hood offers these tips:

  • Don’t answer the phone for a number you do not recognize or that shows up as your own.
  • If you do answer, hang up the minute you realize it is a scam. Even answering simple questions in the affirmative or negative could be used to try to scam you.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who is vague in identifying themselves on the phone.
  • Never wire or send money in any form to persons or organizations you do not know.
  • Always protect your personally identifiable information. Giving personal information out could cause you to become a victim of identity theft.
  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe the IRS any amount, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the treasury inspector general for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov. For more information, visit the consumer section of the attorney general’s website, http://www.agjimhood. com. If you suspect your personal information has been compromised or think you have been a victim of fraud, identity theft or any other crime, call the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office at 1-800281-4418 for further assistance and guidance.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 6/18/15.