Don’t become a victim to tax scammers

Today, your taxes are due and we hope you paid them. Better yet, we hope you have money coming back to you from the state and the feds.

We also hope you don’t fall victim to fake IRS calls that Hawaii’s Better Business Bureau recently issued warnings about. In the heat of battle, such as the deadline to pay taxes, we sometimes aren’t thinking clearly and perhaps, even act rashly.

That could prove costly.

Over the past few weeks, nationally, the Better Business Bureau has seen an increase in reports of tax-collection scams, the most common form being the fake IRS call, on the BBB Scam Tracker. Nationally the amount of fake tax collection reports jumped from 216 in February to 277 in March. Locally Hawaii’s BBB has received 13 reports via the BBB Scam Tracker.

So, what should you watch out for?

Scammers will normally call their potential victims, claiming to be IRS agents. They may alter their caller ID to make it appear as if the IRS is the one calling and they will oftentimes already have some personal information on their target. The taxpayer will be told that they owe money and must pay immediately or face potential jail time.

A slight twist to the fake IRS call, which seems to be gaining popularity among scammers, involves the scammer using a pre-recorded voice. This pre-recorded voice tells the potential victim that the IRS is trying to contact them and then supplies a number to call back.

Some red flags that the call a taxpayer receives is a scam include:

w It is the first they have heard about the debt. Tax agencies don’t call, text, or email without first contacting you by mail. If a taxpayer never received a letter about past due taxes, the “agent” is most likely a scammer.

w The taxpayer is pressured to act immediately. Scammers typically try to push a victim into action before they have had time to think. The government will give a person the chance to ask questions or appeal what they owe.

w Payment must be made by wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or other non- traditional payment methods. These methods are largely untraceable and non-reversible. Tax agencies don’t demand immediate payment, require a specific form of payment, or ask for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone.

In 2015 the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act” was signed into law. Under this new law, the IRS became required to use private debt-collection companies to collect “inactive tax receivables.”

This third-party collection-agency program will begin later this spring. The IRS reminds taxpayers that they will receive written notice when their account is being transferred to a private collection agency, and the collection agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer confirming the transfer.

If you’re all done with your taxes, congratulations. If not, you’re almost out of time. The Lihue post office will offer late collection of mail in specially marked collection boxes today, federal Tax Day, to accommodate last-minute filers of federal tax returns.

Taxpayers across the nation had a few extra days to file their returns this year. April 15 fell on a Saturday and Monday was Emancipation Day, a holiday in the District of Columbia.

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