A New Year for Identity Theft. Be Careful With W-2s!

Identity Theft continues to be a growing issue for the IRS, tax payers, and tax preparers. One scheme affects businesses and their employees, and it involves W-2 forms that are used to report employee wages and withholding. The way that the scam works is that the fraudster pretends to be a CEO or other senior executive and sends an email to Human Resources or Payroll departments asking for copies of W-2s. Alternatively, the email pretends to be from HR or Payroll asks individuals for information “necessary to prepare W-2s.”

In either case, if the email recipient responds, then he or she has provided the swindler with personal identifying information or PII as well as important financial information. The fraudster can then use the information to create fake accounts. This time of year, a common scam is creation and filing of fraudulent tax returns.

The key to this fraud is that the perpetrator can create an email that pretends to come from someone official. Recipients want to be helpful, and reading what they think is an authentic email, they provide the information. The best way to guard against this is with healthy skepticism. When in doubt, contact the sender directly but do not reply to the email. If the email address is spoofed, then you will send the response to the scammer if you simply hit reply. In addition, ask yourself if this is a normal procedure. Why would an employer need to ask existing employees for information necessary to create W-2s? Why would a senior executive ask for a copy of W-2 forms unexpectedly?

Be security conscious and do not become a victim of fraud this year.

Fraud affects your relationship with the IRS and your tax preparer too. Your tax preparer will probably ask you for additional identification this year. In addition, if you have ever been the victim of tax-related identity theft, the IRS will have provided you with a code that will have to be entered on your tax forms.

The IRS provides helpful advice about identity theft. If you become a victim, you should make a report to the Federal Trade Commission.

Is that phone call really from the IRS?

Short answer, “Not exactly.”

As a general rule, the IRS does not call taxpayers on the telephone. It does not initiate audits by phone, and it does not make collection calls. The IRS typically begins correspondence with taxpayers by regular mail (not email).

However, if you read my blog post yesterday, you know that this month the IRS is going to start using private debt collection firms. That may mean that taxpayers with accounts in collection may receive telephone calls. The four companies that the IRS has selected are

  • CBE Group – Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Conserve – Fairport, N.Y.
  • Performant – Livermore, California
  • Pioneer – Horseheads, N.Y.

If you receive a telephone call about past due taxes from one of these companies, it is likely to be legitimate. However, you should always be suspicious of any unsolicited communication that asks for personal or financial information or demands payment.

The IRS has said that it will inform all taxpayers that are going to be transferred to a private collection agency, or PCA, in writing. The letter will also include a publication, Publication 4518, What You Can Expect When the IRS Assigns Your Account to a Private Collection Agency.

In Publication 4518, the IRS says that the PCA will send taxpayers a letter initiating their activity. The letter will include an authentication code.

How can I be sure it is the private collection agency calling me?

The private collection agency will send you a letter confirming assignment of your tax account. The letter will include the same unique taxpayer authentication number that is on the letter sent to you from the IRS. As part of the authentication process the PCA employee will use the unique number for identity verification. Keep both letters in a safe place for future reference.

Be sure to read the letter from the IRS and Publication 4518 very carefully so that you will be familiar with the collection process and can preserve your rights. You may also want to read Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process. You should also consult with a tax professional such as a CPA, Enrolled Agent (EA), or an attorney.

IRS Private Debt Collectors

Beginning this month the IRS is going to begin using private companies to collect debt. The IRS will assign taxpayer accounts to one of four private companies. The companies are:

  1. CBE Group – Cedar Falls, Iowa
  2. Conserve – Fairport, N.Y.
  3. Performant – Livermore, California
  4. Pioneer – Horseheads, N.Y.

Reportedly, the IRS will only assign taxpayer accounts to private collectors after multiple attempts to collect. The IRS describes the process as follows.

The IRS will always notify a taxpayer before transferring their account to a private collection agency (PCA). First, the IRS will send a letter to the taxpayer and their tax representative informing them that their account is being assigned to a PCA and giving the name and contact information for the PCA. This mailing will include a copy of Publication 4518, What You Can Expect When the IRS Assigns Your Account to a Private Collection Agency.

If you owe the IRS and you have not been responsive to collection efforts, you may want to be on the lookout for this correspondence from the IRS. Even if you don’t owe the IRS, you should be alert. Remember that a common scam is when someone impersonates the IRS or other official. This adds a new potential wrinkle. Scammers can now claim to be private collectors representing the IRS. In the past, this would have been an obvious red flag.

As always, if you have any doubts about tax-related correspondence, you should contact a professional. If you receive an unsolicited call or mail, do not give out personal information. Do not agree to anything, and do not provide banking or financial information. If you receive a suspicious letter, be sure to check it out using known addresses and telephone numbers before you respond.

IRS Dirty Dozen – Fake Charities

Every year, the IRS compiles a list of tax-related scams called the Dirty Dozen. I’ll highlight the scams over the next couple of weeks. One of the Dirty Dozen this year is fake charities. The IRS commissioner reports:

Fake charities set up by scam artists to steal your money or personal information are a recurring problem. Taxpayers should take the time to research organizations before giving their hard-earned money.

The IRS offers these tips if you make charitable contributions.

  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Numbers (EIN), if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy through EO Select Check. It is advisable to double check using a charity’s EIN.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal identities and money from victims. Donors often use credit cards to make donations. Be cautious when disclosing credit card numbers. Confirm that those soliciting a donation are calling from a legitimate charity.
  • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

The IRS also notes that many people are defrauded by fake charities following disasters.

The scams work several ways. The most common is to persuade unsuspecting individuals to donate to bogus charities. Another is to use the appeal as a way to collect personal information that can be used for identity theft.

Please do not be dissuaded from continuing to contribute to worthy causes. However, be aware of the potential for fraud and be vigilant. There are resources to help you make good decisions about charitable contributions under the Resources tab on www.elycpa.com.