Scammers Stealing Tax Returns, Identities

MGN Online
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The IRS is warning people in Michigan about phone and email scams because too many people are falling victim.

"People who are relying on the technology are getting burned," said Patrick Miles, who works at the U.S. Attorney's office in Western Michigan. "People trust the technology. They trust that when they see a caller ID that is who is calling them-- so when they see "IRS" or "federal government" they actually think it is the IRS or federal government calling them."

However the Internal Revenue Service rarely calls people. Instead they always use traditional mail.

The scammers tell people they owe money, and ask people to put money on a reloadable debit card and send it in. They do this both over the phone, and also send emails from what looks like a government email account.

"Identity theft is and continues to be one of the top priorities of the IRS. We are devoting a lot of resources to getting it stooped," said Carolyn Weber, who works at the IRS Detroit Field Office.

Since 2011 the IRS has quadrupled its investigations and the number of people sentenced. The problem has even affected a few people in Mid-Michigan.

Another tax scam that has been growing is called "Stolen Identity Refund Fraud" or SIRF. Basically the crooks use your personal information to file for your tax return, and they have the IRS send the money to their bank account.

The folks at Simplified Tax and Accounting file about 8,000 tax returns each year. During the past two years they have helped 3-4 clients overcome the challenges of SIRF.

"It's a high stress situation," said Nikali Luke, a CPA at Simplified. Luke said after the couple of months it takes to work out the problem, his clients received their tax return. They also get a special PIN to do their taxes the following years. "The future years are pretty normal from a filing standpoint," said Luke.

"It's a very big problem," said Weber. "The message we wanted to get out today is people need to really protect their identity. We wanted to warn them about these scams, email and telephone scams that are going on so they don't become victims."

If you question whether the real IRS has called you-- ask the person for their employee, their location, their name and then call the IRS back 1-800-829-1040 and verify that you are dealing with a real employee.

"We take these investigations very seriously," said Miles. "We prosecute them very vigorously and there are serious consequences."

Criminals can get up to 20 or 30 years in prison if they're caught. The IRS hopes people can recognize the scams and prevent them.

It's important to protect your personal information. The IRS said a lot of young people keep their cards on them, because it's their first form of ID, but you should never carry your social security card with you in your wallet.

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