No COLA? Crooks Promise Help
Cons charge you fees for government money that never shows up
En español | A return to tax returns — that's the theme of a new round of scams. You're promised you'll get money from the government if you'll just file new forms with the IRS. You waste your time and pay a fee as well, putting money into the pocket of no one but the crooked tax preparers who run the scams.
See also: How to protect your identity when your cards go missing.
Since summer began, the IRS reports, there's been an uptick in several variations of this ploy. Perhaps leading the list is a ruse targeting Social Security recipients.
You're told that by filing a new IRS 1040 form — and paying the preparer a processing fee of $30 to $60 — you can receive a lump sum of about $3,000 from Uncle Sam to offset the lack of cost-of-living increases in your Social Security benefits over the past two years.
This scam is often pitched in flyers distributed at churches, especially in the South and Midwest. It also spreads through word of mouth. Some people who are snagged are sent to storefronts, where they are given authentic tax forms to complete.
No federal money ever shows up.
And by handing a crooked tax preparer a form that includes your Social Security number and other personal information, you're putting yourself at risk for identity theft. The data could end up being sold on a thriving online black market.
You'll pay a fee and get nothing
Variations of the fill-out-new-forms scam:
- Get a recovery rebate credit or a $250 check from the Economic Recovery Credit program. In fact, you can no longer get money from these stimulus initiatives — the programs have expired.
- Collect refunds for your "low income" household. This money can supposedly be had by filing new returns, even if your household has no real documentation of income.
- Get a payout through Treasury Form 1080. The con artists may tell you this form can be used to transfer funds from the Social Security Administration to the IRS, enabling a payout to you. In fact, the form has nothing to do with individual taxpayers — it's just a voucher for the movement of assets from one federal agency to another.
But like the other falsehoods, this one can "build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice," according to an IRS press release. "In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, their money and the promoters are long gone."
These schemes all involve paying a fee for bad tax advice. Keep in mind that in tax filing season you can get good advice for nothing, through the AARP Tax-Aide program. It operates at about 6,500 sites around the country.
And one more scam
Another tax scam making the rounds this summer is a throwback to one from last fall. Here's how it works:
You receive an email that appears to be from the IRS, informing you that an income tax payment you made through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System was rejected.
In its new version, the email has been tweaked to appear more authentic. But like its predecessor, it provides a link promising more details. If you click on the link, your computer downloads rogue software that can provide scammers with your personal and financial information already stored on your computer.
As with any unsolicited email that claims to be from the IRS, you should delete it without clicking on any links.
Also of interest: Virus protection scam to gain access to your computer. >>
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.