Eventually, it seems, everything old is new again. In the modern age of technology, most of us are hyper-aware of online and email scammers. We are equally wary of telephone solicitations for fear of fraud. Now, a new wave of criminal activity aimed at siphoning money from hardworking individuals is taking a new (old) form – letters sent via snail mail.
This new rip-off involves alleged letters from the IRS that look and sound legitimate. Recipients of the bogus letters say the documents look exactly like legit mailings from the tax agency, making it close to impossible to differentiate between a real IRS letter and a bogus one.
The fake notices most often ask the recipient to pay a balance in connection with Affordable Care Act health coverage for 2014. We all know that taxpayers without proper health coverage are subject to a penalty. Scammers are using this rule as an opportunity to trick vulnerable consumers into sending them a check.
The IRS has identified some warning signs associated with the scam. Most of the fake letters appear to be issued from an Austin, Texas address. All of the letters say the payment issue is related to the Affordable Care Act and request information regarding 2014 coverage. The false notices are several pages in length, and request that payment be sent to the IRS and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a post office box.
As with any scam, we need to be mindful of what is typical practice and what isn’t. Think about how the IRS conducts business before making any payment, especially over the phone. Scammers will try to bully and intimidate their way into your bank accounts. This can be particularly true of telephone scams.
The IRS will never call to demand that you make an immediate payment over the phone. Similarly, the IRS will never attempt to collect taxes owed without having first sent you a bill. The bill serves as notice to you so that you may exercise your right to appeal or question the amount you supposedly owe. Perhaps most important to remember is that the IRS won’t ever threaten to have you arrested for not paying your tax bill. Any threat to involve the police in a collection matter is an instant red flag.
If someone claiming to be from the IRS does call you, even if you aren’t sure if it’s a scam or not, the IRS recommends that you do not give out any information and hang up the phone immediately. You should then report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Fair Trade Commission. If you believe you owe taxes but aren’t sure if the call you received was legit, call the IRS yourself. As in all cases with potential scams, it’s better to be safe than sorry.