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BBB Tip of the Week: Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest and Pacific

Tax season is just around the corner, and that means the opportunities for bad guys to snatch and use consumers’ personal information are at their greatest.

Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific wants to remind consumers to be extra vigilant with their financial accounts, their tax returns and any communications they receive from the Internal Revenue Service. It’s a timely reminder: Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

In 2018, Washington residents reported 71 tax-related scams to BBB’s Scam Tracker tool, which is down from 135 reports in 2017. As we move into tax season, con artists, posing as employees of the IRS or some other federal agency such as the Office of Health and Human Services or Social Security Administration, are likely to increase calls to consumers. This is a type of imposter scam that the BBB often sees this time of year.

Scammers are looking to get access to personally identifiable information, or PII, which allows them to wreak havoc on a person’s financial accounts. If a scammer successfully calls a consumer when pretending to be a Social Security representative and gets their Social Security number, it could be an avenue for the scammer to file tax returns in the consumer’s name. Unfortunately, this could be the start of an even larger identity theft issue, so it is critical consumers guard their PII closely, especially during tax season.

Most frequently, the BBB receives reports that consumers get calls, allegedly from the IRS, using high-pressure tactics and threats to convince them they owe taxes. One of our primary tips has always been: The IRS does not call you, they mail you a letter to let you know if you’re in violation.

But, there is an important caveat.

The IRS changed the way it deals with unpaid debts in 2017. It now uses four private debt collectors, so it is possible to get calls from these collectors if you’ve owed money for years. However, this is the only circumstance in which the IRS says these collectors would call. The four collectors, all of which are BBB accredited, are: CBE Group, ConServe, Performant and Pioneer.

In this case, consumers should already be aware they owe money and can verify the legitimacy of these calls, because they would have previously received letters from the IRS and a debt collector. Secondly, the debt collectors must abide by the Fair Debt Collections Act, meaning they cannot curse at or threaten consumers. If they do, this should be taken as a red flag the caller is not legitimate. Finally, the debt collectors themselves are not allowed to collect payment – they should still be directing consumers to contact with the IRS directly.

To ensure you are protecting your information, it is best to follow BBB’s general tips on tax-collection scams:

First, it is true the IRS will not call you directly. If you do get a call about your taxes, verify if it is coming from one of the four agencies listed above. If not, hang up.

Second, never give personal information to unsolicited callers. This includes, but is not limited to, your Social Security number, credit card information and login information to any relevant accounts.

Finally, don’t trust your caller ID. The internet has made it possible for scammers to use fake IDs when they call your home. It’s called “spoofing.” The number may look like it’s coming from someone – or even a local area – that you know.

To learn more about tax-collection and other imposter scams, head to https://www.bbb.org/us/news/scams

To file a report on a known scam, head to https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/

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