HELENA – During this time of year, people across Montana will be thinking about taxes and the IRS. Officials say it’s a time to be especially vigilant about scams.
“Certainly around tax-filing time, each year before April 15, as folks get ready to do their taxes, it’s probably heavy on their minds,” said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. “That’s when scammers preying on individuals seem to be out and about.”
Each year, the IRS identifies what it calls the “Dirty Dozen” – 12 of the most common tax-related scams. The agency will be posting updates about those scams on its website over the next several weeks.
In Montana, Fox said one of the most prevalent types of fraud around tax time is the IRS scam phone call. Criminals will leave an urgent-sounding voicemail – claiming the victim owes money to the IRS, and sometimes threatening to have them arrested.
“They’ll want to get personal information, they’ll want the individual to pay straight over the phone, give credit card information,” said Fox.
Though caller ID may make it appear the messages come from a legitimate source, they don’t. The IRS will never call someone to demand an immediate payment.
“If you get a call from anyone that says they’re from the IRS – or even the Montana Department of Revenue, for that matter – that is a scam call,” Fox said. “You’ll want to hang up right away.”
A Department of Revenue spokesperson said the department does call taxpayers in Montana to clarify information on their tax returns, and they might contact people who owe money by phone if they’ve tried multiple times to reach them by mail. But they would not demand immediate payments or threaten an arrest.
Scammers will also attack over email. In a phishing scam, the criminal will try to convince a victim to click on a malicious link or download. In many cases, that click infects the victim’s computer with malware.
“In doing that, they can mine personal data and information off of your computer,” said Fox.
Again, the IRS does not ask for personal information or offer refunds over email, social media or other forms of electronic communication.
“Don’t download any attachments, don’t go to any links, just delete the email altogether,” Fox said.
Another threat is identity theft. If scammers get access to a person’s Social Security number or other private data, they can use it to file a false tax return in the victim’s name, in hopes of getting a refund.
“It’s important for Montanans to get their tax returns in as early as possible,” Fox said.
If a scammer has filed a false tax return before you file your authentic one, yours may be rejected, and you will have to work with the IRS to clear up the issue. If you file your return first, the scammer’s attempt will be rejected.
Fox also said, if you’re having someone else prepare your taxes, you should make sure they’re legitimate and trustworthy.
“You’re sharing personal information like your Social Security number with your tax preparer, so you need to make sure that they’re safe and secure and they’re not going to misuse that information,” he said.
He said agencies will be looking out for any cases of tax-related fraud over the coming months.
“Both my Montana Department of Justice has investigators and the IRS has investigators,” he said. “We will track down these scammers and fraud artists, and we will bring them to justice.”
You can find more information about these and other common scams at the Montana Office of Consumer Protection’s website.
By Jonathon Ambarian – MTN News
EDITOR’S NOTE, Mar. 8: This story was updated to include clarification that the Montana Department of Revenue may contact taxpayers by phone for legitimate reasons.