ST. GEORGE – Taxpayers need to be watching out for tax scams.
The newest one the Internal Revenue Service is warning the public about is the “Shared Responsibility” scam, according to a news release.
This scam doesn’t come in the form of a phone call or email; it comes in the form of a tax preparer.
According to the release, the shared responsibility payment is owed when filers did not have insurance in any given month of 2014 and were not exempt or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the shared responsibility payment when taxes are filed.
The release indicates some methods being used are telling individuals they must make the payment directly to the preparer because of immigration status, promising to lower the payment amount if paid directly to the preparer or demanding money from those exempt or on Medicare or Medicaid.
Some taxpayers may receive a letter from the IRS indicating they owe the payment and how to make the payment to the IRS, according to the release.
But they should never pay anyone but the United States Treasury, the release reported. In some cases the payment will be taken out of any refund.
Jane Briggs, the Utah Better Business Bureau’s president and CEO, suggested that those looking for help from a preparer check the business out with the Better Business Bureau.
However, the IRS also has a fail safe in the form of IRS.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional, which lists reliable preparers, according to the release.
Because the law is so new, many may fall for this scam and it’s understandable, Briggs said.
“The best way to protect yourself is finding a reliable preparer,” she said.
Briggs said another issue BBB is getting complaints about are the rapid refund loans. The loans, she said, are made to the taxpayers so they get their refunds that day or within three days.
Interest on these loans are as high as 500 percent, she said.
“That’s really high considering most taxpayers are getting their refunds in a week,” she said.
Briggs explained high rates may be against Utah law, since there are usury laws in place to protect consumers, and filers should consider e-filing without the loan.
David Quinlan, BBB public relations director in the northwest, explained other scams, including “Imposter Scams.”
He said criminals participating in these scams will “spoof” phone numbers so they show as local calls on caller ID. They then charm the victim to gain trust to get personal information.
“If that doesn’t work they resort to scare tactics,” he said. “People are nervous anyway because they believe the IRS is calling and they fall for it and provide the information.”
The scammers then have all they need to steal that person’s identity, he said.
“They cast a wide net hoping one or two people fall for it to make it worth it,” Quinlan said.
Imposters also use phishing emails as a means to get what they want, he said.
“Imposters hijack legitimate logos and send phishing emails,” he said.
It used to be consumers could just read the email and tell right away that it was fake because of grammatical and spelling errors, he said.
“But not anymore; they are getting better,” Quinlan said. “Sometimes they use the language from actual letters from the IRS.”
The best way to see if these are real is to hover the mouse over the sender email to see if the URL indicates it’s from a secured site — having https and being from a legitimate website, he said.
“I wouldn’t click on anything; they can infect your computer with a virus if you do,” he said.
Briggs said if in doubt to call the business or IRS to determine if it’s real.
“But the IRS never sends communication through email,” Quinlan said.
State returns are not immune to fraud and scams either, said Charlie Roberts, spokesperson for the Utah State Tax Commission.
“It’s an issue in all states,” Roberts said.
Utah has seen an increase of identity theft, he said.
“Refunds have been issued slower this year than in years past,” he said.
Roberts said the tax commission will send out questionnaires when the staff detects inconsistencies. Taxpayers are instructed to go online or call the commission to answer the questions to determine whether the return is real.
Roberts urges everyone to protect their information, never give Social Security number or credit card information to anyone and to change passwords regularly.
IRS and Utah State Tax Commission officials agree on one thing — neither organization will contact taxpayers by phone asking for personal information, so hang up on those callers claiming to be staff and report them to the Better Business Bureau and the police.
• Scammers use “phishing” emails to garner personal information; never click on any link or give out information in this way
• Imposters call unsuspecting taxpayers to try to charm/scare information out of them; never give out social security or credit card numbers over the phone
• Protect personal information to prevent identity theft
• When in doubt, call the IRS to determine legitimacy of emails, letters or phone calls
• Those wanting help to file may go online to IRS.gov or BBB.org to find reliable tax preparers
This is the fourth of a series of seven income tax-related stories that will run each day this week in The Spectrum & Daily News. The stories will tackle vital information each income tax filer needs to know — from how to avail of eco-friendly deductions, points to consider before seeking a filing extension, how to spot bogus IRS emails, tax code changes, foreclosures to education tax credits.
Our writing staff conducted several interviews and researched the ever-complicated tax code to bring you, our readers, the most comprehensive local angle of a national story. Make sure to follow our series, which runs until Saturday.
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