How to Spot a Tax Scam Before You Get Got

Happy tax season! Not only do you have to make sure you get everything together you need to file your taxes on time and accurately, you have to deal with people trying to capitalize on your stress.

I’m talking about the “IRS” — not the real Internal Revenue Service, but the slew of people impersonating the IRS in an attempt to steal your money and personal information. Scammers bank on your desire to not get in trouble with the IRS, but their tactics are full of signs that you’re not dealing with a legitimate representative of the government.

1. If They Demand Immediate Payment

There are a few red flags that should pop up when you get a call from someone claiming you need to pay taxes. First of all, the IRS isn’t big on making phone calls to taxpayers — they don’t even have enough people to answer the phone — and they definitely aren’t going to call you if they haven’t already sent you correspondence via the U.S. Postal Service.

Additionally, if the caller asks you to use a specific payment method, particularly a prepaid debit card. you can be nearly certain it’s a scam. The IRS accepts multiple forms of payment. and it won’t insist that you pay over the phone.

2. If They Leave Threatening Messages

This actually just happened to one of our editors. She received a message on her voicemail saying the IRS had filed a lawsuit against her and told her to call back. (She called to investigate, no one answered, and the voicemail message said nothing about the IRS.)

It happens a lot. On its website. the IRS lists threats “to bring in local police or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying” as one of the signs that you’re dealing with a scammer.

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3. If They Request Important Documents Via Email

The IRS won’t ask you to share sensitive information via email. If you get an email from someone claiming to be the IRS, be suspicious.

“The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information,” the IRS website says.”This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.”

4. If They Ask for Your Credit or Debit Card Number

If the IRS says you owe a certain amount of money in taxes, you’re entitled to question or appeal that amount. If the first time you hear

about taxes you owe is on a phone call with someone demanding you give your credit or debit card number to settle the debt, it’s a scam.

Actually, the IRS says it doesn’t ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone at all, so don’t do it.

5. If They Claim They’ll Save You Tons of Money

Tax preparation scams are their own nasty breed of vicious attacks on consumers. Be wary of services claiming they can save you an extraordinary amount of money by helping you file your taxes, because they might be trying to divert your payment from the IRS or be making illegal claims on your tax return, which you’re ultimately responsible for. Even if someone else prepares your taxes, you’re accountable for their accuracy, so be careful when choosing someone to assist you. Most tax preparers are legitimate and can help you save money, but there are plenty of people willing to take advantage of consumers looking for a little help this tax season.

Keep in mind that if you don’t pay your taxes, you may have to deal with debt collectors or end up with a tax lien on your credit report, so scammers are preying on real fears here. If you know you have taxes to pay and receive a suspicious message, either on the phone or via email, you should reach out to the IRS directly. Granted, that’s not an easy path to take, especially this time of year. The IRS is overwhelmed with calls and anticipates being able to answer fewer than half the calls it receives this year, but when you are trying to settle a tax debt, you want to make sure you’re paying the right people.

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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi

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