Earlier this month the best bit of tax scamming I’ve seen in my career crossed my desk. While there are many red flags on the document below, at first blush it’s the real deal, a balance due notice from the IRS. And not an outrageous bill; something you might consider paying without consulting your tax preparer. Don’t do it. Whenever you receive a notice, your preparer should be copied for an opinion on how to deal with it.

Telephone scams are now so common that most taxpayers have caught on. There’s a new variation this year. Scammers call and claim to be able to suspend or cancel a social security number. This can be paired with a demand for “overdue” taxes. No one is going to be able to suspend or cancel a social security number. Never provide sensitive information over the phone. If you get a suspicious call, just hang up. Often scammers will alter the display of a call so that it seems to be coming from a Taxpayer Assistance Center, then hang up and tell the taxpayer to check the IRS website to verify the phone number. After giving the taxpayer time to verify the number, the scammer calls back and continues to demand payment.

You may get a legitimate call from the IRS or a private collection agency but the caller will never:

  • Request payment by wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or ITunes gift card,
  • Request payment to be made to any entity or person other than the “United States Treasury” (‘IRS’ on a check is too easy to alter),
  • Threaten arrest if payment is not made immediately, or
  • Not give the taxpayer a chance to question or appeal the amount owed.

You will never get an unsolicited email from the IRS. This fall there were a host of fake emails purportedly from the IRS that asked taxpayers to click on a link to find out more about the status of a filed return or refund. If the taxpayer clicked, the computer was infected with malware.

Each year a paid tax preparer needs to secure a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) in order to legitimately sign a tax return. That number appears on each return prepared. Beware of any tax preparer who refuses to sign a return or prepares a return with no PTIN (which should be right next to the preparer’s signature). Those preparers might demand payment in cash or worse, direct the taxpayer’s refund to his bank account instead of the taxpayer’s. They often file returns with erroneous information and take a percent of an inflated refund as payment for working their magic. Always check the accuracy of your return before filing. Ask questions. By signing the return you are taking responsibility for everything reported. And if you should be receiving a direct deposit of a refund, verify the routing transit and bank account numbers where the return will be directed.

Scammers get more creative by the year. If you feel that you are a potential victim of a tax scam you can:

  • Report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
  • Report the caller ID and callback number to the IRS by sending it to phishing@irs.gov. The taxpayer should write “IRS Phone Scam” in the subject line.
  • Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission. When reporting it, they should add “IRS Phone Scam” in the notes.