Tax-return-related scams popping up around Louisiana
- Sep 3, 2011
The fliers increasingly popping up around many community churches seem harmless enough. They are handwritten, include a first name and local phone number, and offer exactly what any taxpayer would want: more money back on your tax returns.
But as unsuspicious as the flier may seem, following up on the enticement could leave your bank account and your identity vulnerable to theft.
The Internal Revenue Service has seen an increase in these types of tax-return-related scams targeting church congregations across the country, especially in Louisiana.
The way the scam works is simple: An unsuspecting taxpayer calls the phone number on the flier, seeking help with filing tax returns. The scam artist then solicits the caller's Social Security number, and in many cases, bank account and credit card numbers, giving them all the information necessary to steal the caller's money and identity.
These scams, which exploit a tax refund system that can sometimes prove complicated, tend to prey disproportionately on elderly and low-income individuals.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said Dee Harris Stepter, a spokeswoman for the IRS based in New Orleans. "Most people rely on the faith and credibility of the people in their church, and so they believe the tax help's a legitimate thing when it's not."
These schemes tend to spread by word of mouth, as well-intentioned people tell their friends and family.
To avoid becoming a victim of tax scams, there are certain precautions you can take.
If you're considering paying someone to help with tax returns, check the preparer's track record first. The Better Business Bureau of New Orleans offers ratings of many local tax return preparers, from A+ to F, to help taxpayers make the right choice.
"Bottom line is don't give out any of your information to anyone you haven't checked out first," said Cynthia Albert, the bureau's director of operations and media relations.
Scammers often promise free money with no documentation required. The IRS will always require documentation.
Social Security beneficiaries should be wary of anyone promising refunds or larger payouts, Stepter said, because if someone's sole source of income is Social Security, they are not eligible for income tax credits.
The IRS is also seeing a lot of scams involving expired or nonexistent tax credits, such as the now-expired Economic Recovery Credit or Recovery Rebate Credit.
Many scam artists pretend to be IRS officials. They call or email people asking for their personal information, and in some cases, threaten to arrest the person they're calling, saying the person must hand over the personal information or else.
The IRS will never ask for personal information over email or phone.
"Be informed about what your rights as a taxpayer are," said Stepter. "These scams are something that's very prevalent in our society, unfortunately."