Carroll County Times

Protect yourself against tax season scams

With the deadline for filing your taxes quickly approaching, residents should be aware of various tax-related scams, including phone calls from people claiming to work for the Internal Revenue Service telling you that you owe the government money.

Phone scams are fairly common, although a Carroll County Sheriff's Office representative said that office hasn't dealt with many of these particular tax-related scams yet. However, Howard County Police recently warned residents about such a scam, with at least nine cases involving Howard County residents reported since October.

In each case, victims received a phone call that appeared to be from the IRS or federal government, according to a Howard County news release. Victims are told they owe money and must pay promptly over the phone via a prepaid debit card. Victims are told there are outstanding arrest warrants for them due to delinquent taxes. They are also asked to provide their full Social Security number.

In some cases, scammers have received victims' Social Security numbers and monetary amounts up to $3,000, according to Howard County Police.

Lt. David Stem, of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, said the office hasn't had reports of this particular scam, but they've had reports of ones like it.

He offered some general advice: "Don't give personal identification information over the phone unless you made the original call."

Some of the schemes can get downright sophisticated in an attempt to bilk potential victims out of their money. According to a news release from the IRS, scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it's the IRS calling. The scammers will sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls. After threatening victims with jail time or driver's license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

"With the Internet these days, you can go to three or four different websites and get information," Stem said. "These people just sit and phone and go through 250 calls before they find one person."

Red flags should go up any time someone calls seeking money and claiming to be from a government agency, well-known business or charitable organization. Police advise keeping personal information to yourself and not to feel pressured to make a decision on the spot. The calls may seem legitimate because the caller may recite a badge number and the last four digits of your social security number.

"Generally, they'll be able to cite the last four digits because your identity has already been compromised," Stem said.

If you get a call from the IRS, get the caller's information, ask if you can get a return number, then call the IRS's 800 number on their website and alert them to the name and badge number given.

Stem said the office does receive reports of other tax-related scams.

"From about mid-January through tax season, we'll have some isolated cases where someone uses someone's Social Security number to file taxes, which is considered identity fraud," he said.

In those situations, when the real owner of the Social Security number files his taxes, his return will be rejected electronically if he files online, or he'll receive a rejection letter from the IRS, Stem explained. If they get such a notification, they should immediately file an ID fraud report with the IRS and notify the local police department, he said.

Beyond the tax-related phone scams, Stem said the Sheriff's Office deals with an array of other phone scams, including ones where callers will try to convince the victims - who are usually elderly - that they are a young relative who has run into trouble with the law and needs money to get out of jail. Often, the money is requested in the form of a money order or Green Dot prepaid cards.

"No police agency in the world would ask for a Green Dot money card," Stem said. "It's always a fraud. Don't wire or send money. Get a number to call this person back, and if you have any questions, call your local police department."