I try to be as comprehensive as possible with my posts, but the fact of the matter is that I often find out more on a topic after I’ve written about it. Tax fraud, in particular, is a vast and sprawling criminal industry in which innovators are constantly perfecting their games. Recently I came across three methods they use that I had neglected to include in my previous post about tax fraud.

CEO Impersonation: In this scam, a criminal will set up a “spoof” domain—like “bankofamerica.com.com” or “verizon.com.net”—and send an email to the company’s human resources department asking for employees’ personal information. In one such instance, the scammer asked for a copy of every employee’s W2, and human resources fell for it. Not surprisingly, that breach resulted in several employees being the victims of identity fraud.

IRS Telephone Impersonation: In this scam, unsavory characters call the intended victim and pose as agents for the IRS. They tell the victim that they are going to be imprisoned if they do not immediately pay a certain amount. They will often claim that sheriffs or the police are on their way to the victim’s home, and that if payment is not made in a specific manner (usually money order, cashier’s check, or prepaid debit card), they will be arrested. A few things:

  • You are always allowed to contest the amount you owe to the IRS.
  • The IRS will never threaten to involve local police.
  • The IRS will never threaten to jail you over the phone. In fact, should you be that delinquent, they will make every effort to keep you out of jail (and still paying taxes!) with the use of payment plans.
  • IRS employees are career civil servants, and while they are susceptible to the same fluctuations in mood as the rest of us, they do not typically yell or use swear words
  • The IRS will never require a certain type of payment be used over others.

Mislabeled Links: It is possible for anyone to display a link that does not go to the location it purports—for example, click on this link: www.irs.gov. In case you weren’t brave enough to try it, that link actually goes to my webpage, not the IRS. So how can you tell if a link is legitimate? Hover over it and look at the lower left-hand corner of your web browser for the real destination of the link.

Are There Any Other Warning Signs?

Criminals are smart, but they are not that smart. Many of them do not speak English fluently and their emails are riddled with bad grammar, spelling, and formatting.

Another telltale sign of an impersonator is if they instruct you to keep their communications with you a secret. They might instruct you not to call the IRS directly and not to tell your tax preparer. There is no reason for the real IRS to demand such secrecy—in fact, as taxpayers we have many rights, one of which is to make use of accountants and attorneys as we see fit.

If you have any reason to suspect that a phone call or email claiming to be from the IRS is not actually from the IRS, there is one simple solution: Initiate the call yourself by reaching out to the IRS. This time of year there will be long wait times, but you do have the option of hanging up and having the IRS call you back. If you’re unable to receive calls and have to wait, I have often found that time flies when shopping online.

Have you received any suspicious phone calls or emails claiming to be from the IRS?