WHITE PLAINS — In the past three years more than 10,000 taxpayers across America have been conned out of more than $55 million, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
There are plenty of fraudulent schemes that swindlers use to steal money from unsuspecting taxpayers each year, officials said. With Tax Day on April 18, officials said there are steps people should take now to avoid being fleeced and to report attempted scams.
"These fraudsters are constantly coming up with new ways to steal," U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, said today at the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in White Plains, joined by state and federal officials.
Here's how they said you can avoid being one of those victims this tax season:
Businesses beware: One of the latest and "most pervasive IRS impersonation schemes in the history of our agency" targets human resources and payroll departments, said William Kalb, a special agent in charge of the New York Field Division of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
Scammers send emails, disguised as messages from organization executives, to those personnel staffs requesting lists of all employees and their W-2 forms, Kalb said.
This scheme has become a growing threat to businesses, school districts, and nonprofits, he said.
Phony phones: There are also phone scams that use "spoofing" to make phone calls appear as if they are being made from legitimate, local numbers, such as those from the IRS, to trick taxpayers, Kalb said.
"That's a scary call, and that's the essence of why this call works," said Gary Brown, assistant attorney general in charge of the state Attorney General Office's Westchester branch.
Fishing for information: Other so-called "phishing" schemes are carried out through emails and websites that appear to be legitimate and convince people to provide personal and financial information in reply, according to the IRS.
Anyone can be victims of tax fraud, particularly senior citizens, who are more likely to be home and answer the phone when scammers call, Brown said.
Watch out: Swindlers often use emails, calls, or texts to pose as banks, credit card companies, tax service companies, or the IRS to ask taxpayers for passwords, Social Security numbers, and bank or credit card accounts, officials said. Scammers often ask for payment via pre-paid debit cards, iTunes cards, other gift cards, Kalb said, which the IRS never accepts for tax payments.
Officials said taxpayers should suspect a scam if a caller or email does the following:
Officials emphasized that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text, or social media to request personal or financial information.
Report it: Taxpayers are urged to take the following steps if they suspect a scam:
Visit www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts for more information on common tax fraud schemes.
Suspicious phone calls from someone claiming to be an IRS employee also can be reported by calling the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. To determine if a letter, notice, or form via mail or fax is legitimate, you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. You can also call the state Attorney General's hotline at 1-800-771-7755.