COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warned Ohioans about two of the most common tax-related scams reported to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office — the “IRS” phone scam and tax identity theft.
The IRS phone scam generally begins with a call claiming the recipient is in trouble with the IRS and must call a certain phone number to avoid arrest or legal action. Eventually, the person is asked to send money or personal information to resolve the supposed problem.
Since Jan. 1, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received more than 1,400 reports about IRS scams. Most people who report the scam haven’t lost money, but nationally, since October 2013, more than 5,000 victims collectively have paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam, according to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
“I think many people hear ‘IRS’ and are scared to death,” DeWine said. “Scam artists rely on that. Sometimes they threaten you. They tell you how much you owe, tell you to buy a prepaid card, and ask you to give the card number over the phone. The real IRS won’t call to demand immediate payment over the phone without ever sending you written information.”
Tax identity theft, another commonly reported problem, generally occurs when an imposter files a fraudulent tax return using someone else’s Social Security number in order to obtain that person’s tax refund. In 2015, the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section received more than 700 complaints about tax-related identity theft. (To resolve this type of identity theft, individuals generally must work with the IRS or state tax department.)
To avoid scams during tax season, consumers should take steps to protect themselves, including:
- File your tax return promptly. This makes it less likely that an imposter will be able to file a return in your name to steal your refund.
- Don’t respond to threatening robocalls. If you receive an unexpected phone call from someone who threatens to arrest you for not paying taxes, it’s probably a scam. Don’t respond to the call, and don’t provide payment or personal information over the phone.
- Look into call-blocking options. Check with your phone carrier and third-party services to determine whether call-blocking services could help you stop unwanted calls.
- Make sure you trust your tax filer. Before giving out any personal information, check a tax preparer’s credentials. For example, review information in the IRS’s directory of federal tax return preparers.
- Protect your information online. When entering sensitive tax information online, use a secure Internet connection; avoid using free public Wi-Fi. Be wary of email messages that appear to come from a legitimate organization but ask you to verify your information by clicking on a link or providing personal information. The message may be part of a phishing scam.
IRS or U.S. Treasury impersonation scams can be reported to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.treasury.gov/tigta or 800-366-4484. Tax identity theft should be reported to the IRS (for federal taxes) or the Ohio Department of Taxation (for state taxes).
Consumers who want help detecting a potential scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.
Audio of a reported “IRS” scam call is available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.