Be aware of IRS scams

Oakhurst residents Richard Barnett and his wife Nadine Bishel receive free assistance from AARP volunteer tax preparer Gay Abarbanell at the Oakhurst Library.
Oakhurst residents Richard Barnett and his wife Nadine Bishel receive free assistance from AARP volunteer tax preparer Gay Abarbanell at the Oakhurst Library. Sierra Star

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers and remain on the annual “Dirty Dozen“ list of tax scams for the 2017 filing season.

During filing season, the IRS generally sees a surge in scam phone calls that threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things. The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that arise at any time and pick up during tax season.

“Don’t be fooled by surprise phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents with threats or promises of a big refund if you provide them with your private information,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “If you’re surprised to get a call from the IRS, it almost certainly isn’t the real IRS. We generally initially contact taxpayers by mail.”

The Dirty Dozen is compiled annually by the IRS and lists a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports they have become aware of over 10,000 victims who have collectively paid over $54 million as a result of phone scams since October 2013.

How do scams work?

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card or gift card, like an iTunes card. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls.”

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest or revoke the driver’s license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS employee titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate.

The IRS also reminded taxpayers that scammers change tactics. Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers.

Here are some things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:

Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.

Threaten to immediately bring in police to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.

Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

For taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or don’t think they do:

Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.

Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page, or call (800) 366-4484.

For those who owe taxes or think they do:

Call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. IRS workers can help.

Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more information, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore these rights and the agency’s obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

Free tax preparation assistance

Free income tax return preparation and electronic filing, for both California state and federal returns, is again available this year for Mountain Area residents, offered by the AARP Tax-Aide program. Services are provided free of all costs and charges, to low and moderate income taxpayers of all ages.

Tax help is offered to persons of all ages - you don’t have to be a senior citizen, or a member of AARP. Indeed, last year, Tax-Aide prepared first tax returns for several 17 and 18-year-old students who had their first jobs.

Services are offered at the community room at the Oakhurst Library, and are available 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. every Tuesday through April 11 and this Saturday (Feb. 25). Appointments are required and can be made by calling Brian Ross at (559) 285-1494.

“We serve more than 300 taxpayers here in Oakhurst so people need to call for an appointment,” Ross said.

AARP tax preparer Darlene Kelly urges those who would like assistance to make their reservation as soon as possible.

“Our appointment calendar is filling up fast and we don’t want anyone to miss the opportunity to use this free service,” Kelly said.

Tax-Aide services are also offered on Thursdays in the City of Madera, at the Annex to the First Southern Baptist Church, 711 Nebraska Avenue. Appointments may be made by calling Sarah Titus at (559) 706-1868.

Tax returns are prepared by specially trained and certified volunteers. The returns are prepared on site, and then electronically filed the same day. Last year, Tax-Aide volunteers prepared and filed over 550 tax returns for Madera County residents.

AARP Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service available to taxpayers with low and moderate income.

Over 33,000 AARP Tax-Aide volunteers, trained in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), now help over 2 million taxpayers file their federal, state, and local tax returns each year at nearly 7,000 AARP Tax-Aide sites nationwide.