Tax season is coming up, and since most people are intimidated by what can be a complex process, confusion leaves them open to be taken advantage of by con artists. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) commissioner John Koskinen, who was confirmed by the US Senate at the end of last year, specifically said that there has been an increase in the prevalence of identity theft being used in tax fraud, either to avoid paying taxes or to collect on someone else’s refund, and that identity theft tops this year’s Dirty Dozen list of tax frauds.
Tax fraud: IRS has a special identity theft task force
“They get a little more artful each year, to some extent,” said Koskinen while on tour visiting IRS offices around the country. “It’s like the Whack-a-mole game. Each year there are different approaches,” reports Carol Christian at The Houston Chronicle.
Identity theft can be incredibly frustrating, and with so much of our personal information out there no one is really immune, but keeping an eye on your credit reports can alert you if something strange is happening. Taxpayers who believe they are the victim of identity theft can call the IRS’s special task force at 800-908-4490.
Tax fraud: Protecting yourself from impersonators
While identity theft tops the list of scams this year, taxpayers also need to protect themselves from run-of-the-mill phishing and impersonation frauds. The main ways to protect yourself from phishing is to always re-initiate contact on your own. If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS and you believe that he or she is legitimate, take the person’s information and then call the IRS (using a phone number you find on your own) and ask to speak to that person. Don’t provide personal information until you’ve verified the other person’s identity.
If you are thinking of getting help preparing your taxes, and about 70% of Americans do, make sure that you check the preparer’s IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTIN) and that the person signs the tax return, enters his or her PTIN, and provides you with copies of everything for your records. If a preparer says he can get you more returns than anyone else or bases charges on a percentage of your return, that a sign to be suspicious.
The IRS also warns people not to hide income through offshore accounts, the misuse of trusts, or intentionally inaccurate income statements, though if anyone is engaged in such activities a statement from Koskinen isn’t likely to sway them.