IRS, Is That Really You?
The tax deadline has ended and your taxes are filed—but that doesn’t mean you should stop thinking about your taxes altogether. We at FF&F think it is imperative to use this time following the April deadline rush to warn our clients, families and friends of the increasing dangers surrounding identity theft. Identity theft criminals know that most people have an innate fear of dealing with the IRS and “getting into trouble” with their taxes. They feed off taxpayers’ qualms and are very convincing when it comes to scaring you into giving them money.
One of the most important things to remember is that the IRS does not solicit taxpayers via telephone calls; the standard course of IRS correspondence is in the form of written notification sent by U.S. mail, which informs the taxpayer of any outstanding tax liabilities. The IRS also does not contact taxpayers via email. As with everything around us that is evolving, so are the tactics of these scam artists, who have become more sophisticated over the years. In fact, there have been documented instances wherein the IRS impersonator’s telephone number was “spoofed” so that the number that appeared on the victim’s caller identification feature (caller ID) appeared to be a legitimate IRS number (e.g., (800) 829-1040).
At the 2016 annual “Meet the IRS” event, sponsored by the New York State Society of CPAs Relations with the IRS Committee, there was a presentation given by two criminal investigators who over the past few years have been focused on identity theft crimes. Both presenters, Giovanni LePore, Special Agent, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and Matthew McWhirr, Special Agent, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, could not stress enough that we are all vulnerable and no one is exempt from being a potential target for these identity theft “fraudsters.” The investigators have spent countless hours investigating potential identity theft crimes. It affects everyone–regardless of socioeconomic status, education, or tax bracket.
Their discussion of fraud tactics focused on telephone impersonators, who attempt to put taxpayers on the defensive with a ploy such as: “Hi, this is Agent Joe Smith from the IRS. You owe $5,000.00 as a result of tax fraud. If you don’t pay within thirty minutes, you will be arrested.”
While the technologies being used by identity criminals make it nearly impossible to prevent them from contacting you, there are ways to be proactive and protect yourself from further victimization after receiving a fraudulent call. NEVER, under any circumstance, provide money or any personal information, especially your Social Security Number, date of birth, or bank account information, to anyone from whom you have received an unsolicited telephone call.
The caller may claim to be from a federal, state, or local government agency, or even from a utility company. Tell the caller that you do not feel comfortable providing any information over the telephone and that you will contact the agency/company yourself. In the case of an unsolicited call from a supposed “IRS Representative,” DO NOT discuss any tax issues with him/her. Advise the caller that you will contact your accountant or the IRS in order to resolve the issue. If you are threatened with arrest or deportation, tell the caller that you know the call is a scam, and that you are going to report them to the authorities, then terminate the call. DO NOT engage them in any further conversation, and as stated above, DO NOT provide them with any personal information. Once these scammers realize that you are not going to comply with their demands, it is highly unlikely that they will continue to harass you. They will not spend their time speaking with you if they know their efforts are futile. Please remember that no legitimate IRS employee will ever threaten you with arrest or deportation.
If you feel you have been a victim of such a crime, you should immediately contact an IRS fraud office. Do not be afraid to step forward. The more information that can be gathered on these criminals, the easier it will be to track down and prosecute them. Both investigators who presented at Meet the IRS were kind enough to share their contact information with our staff. If you have any questions on this topic, or feel that you might have received a fraudulent call, please contact our office at (212) 245-5900.
Peter DiPaola, CPA, is a Tax Manager at Farkouh, Furman & Faccio with over 16 years of experience. He holds a BBA in Public Accounting from Pace University. Since joining FF&F 6 years ago, Peter has worked with a range of clients including manufacturers, oil and gas companies, transportation companies, attorneys and investment advisors. Peter specializes in state and local taxation of Corporations and Partnerships.