Avoiding Tax Scams

Telephone Scam

A WashU international student received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) alleging that there is some issue with the student’s visa status and that the student needed to pay some money urgently. Please be advised that this is a scam. According to the Treasury Department’s website, the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) issued a warning to taxpayers to beware of phone calls from individuals claiming to represent the IRS in an effort to defraud them. The government received reports of over 20,000 contacts and has become aware of thousands of victims who have collectively paid over $1 million as a result of the scam, in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials.

Please be advised that the IRS usually first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes. And the IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.
The callers who commit this fraud often:

  • Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
  • Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
  • Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
  • Call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do:

  • If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
  • If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
  • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.

Refund Email Scam

There are several variations of the refund scam, in which an email claiming to come from the Internal Revenue Service falsely informs the recipient that he or she is eligible for a tax refund for a specific amount. The bogus email instructs the recipient to click on a link to access a refund claim form. The form requests personal information that the scammers can use to access the email recipient’s bank or credit card account.

This notification is phony. The IRS does not send unsolicited email about tax account matters to taxpayers.

Filing a tax return is the only way to apply for a tax refund; there is no separate application form. Taxpayers who wish to find out if they are due a refund from their last annual tax return filing may use the “Where’s My Refund” link at www.irs.gov – the only official IRS Web site.

Substitute Form 1040 Fax Scam

This scam consists of a cover letter and form that are faxed, rather than e-mailed. The cover letter is addressed “Dear Valued Tax Payer (sic)” and appears to be signed by an IRS employee. The letter says that the IRS is updating its files and that recipients who supply the requested information will receive a nominal tax refund. It also states that those who fail to immediately return the completed form risk additional tax and withholding. The attached form is labeled a substitute Form 1040 and is titled “Certificate of Current Status of Beneficial Owner For United States Tax Recertification & Withholding.” It requests a large amount of detailed personal and financial information, such as mother’s maiden name (often used in security screening), bank account numbers, estimated assets and more. It asks the recipient to sign and fax back the completed form as well as a copy of the recipient’s driver’s license and passport.

The letter, signature and form are all fraudulent. Moreover, the IRS does not send unsolicited faxes to taxpayers and does not request such detailed personal and financial information.

For More Information

For more information, visit the IRS website.

To learn about additional scams and schemes, visit the Washington University Police Department website.

To learn more about online security, visit the WashU Network Security Office website.