April 11, 2016

Being On Alert For Tax Season Scammers

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

With tax filing deadlines hitting, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is advising Americans to stay on alert for threatening calls from impersonators falsely claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service.

TIGTA indicates it received reports of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scammers making more than one million contacts over the past few years, and more than 5,500 victims have collectively paid approximately $29 millionas a result of the scam.  The scam is described as criminals fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials making unsolicited calls to taxpayers telling the intended victims they owe taxes and demanding that that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards, money orders or wire transfers from their banks.  Intended victims are threatened with being charged with a criminal violation, a grand jury indictment, immediate arrest and more for refusal to pay.  TIGTA reports that taxpayers in every state have been hit with the scam. 

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, J. Russell George, warns, "If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS or in a new twist, the Treasury Department, and uses the threat of legal action if you do not pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling, and your cue to hang up.  Again, do not engage with these callers.  If they call you, hang up the telephone."

TIGTA cautioned that, "The IRS generally first contacts people by mail-not by phone-about unpaid taxes and the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order or a wire transfer.  The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number or your bank information over the phone."  TIGTA also provides recommendations on what to do if a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS and asking for payment is received.  The recommendations include hanging up; reporting the scam via TIGTA's website, www.tigta.gov; and filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov.  Further, TIGTA recommends that attachments in IRS-related email scams should not be opened and links should not be clicked, but rather reported. 

It is terrible that Americans have to spend millions on compliance with an overly-burdensome and complicated tax code, while also having to be watchful for criminals trying to manipulate Americans trying to meet their tax obligations.  Unfortunately, Americans should be suspicious anytime they get a cold call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, given the well-documented difficulties the IRS has just being able to answer any phone calls coming from taxpayers with questions or who are in need of assistance.  It has gotten to the point where this lack of responsiveness from the IRS makes us wonder if the IRS even has phones anymore.  So, a phone call should be the last thing one would expect from the IRS. 

We must simplify our overly-complex and anti-competitive tax code to not only assist with economic and job growth, but also to ease compliance.  This includes eliminating complexity, broadening the base and significantly lowering rates for all Americans.  I will continue to press for comprehensive, long-term reform of the tax code that would provide needed certainty to families and businesses, as I am hopeful that Idahoans and all Americans do not fall victim to tax scammers exploiting a shamefully onerous tax code.    

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