Tis’ the season for tax scams: How you can protect yourself from identity theft


RICHMOND, Va. — IRS and state officials say this time of year, they see a spike in calls about identity theft. 

“Sometimes, they’re crying and I have to calm them down. They don’t know where to go,” Mary Sharpe said. 

Scam victims call Sharpe at the Attorney General’s Office to report their cases. She provides them with resources. Most of the time, they’re frantic and have had trouble getting someone on the phone to talk to them about what happened. 

“It’s nice to be that person and to talk to them,” she said. 

Sharpe was part of a panel discussion Thursday, led by IRS officials. They talked about issues they’re seeing during the holiday season, which is when they notice more reports of IRS scams. 

These come in the form of “phishing” emails, requesting bank account information as well as robocalls threatening arrests if the victim doesn’t pay their balance to the IRS. 

Four and a half million robocall complaints were reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2017. That’s two and a half times more than in 2014. Virginia ranks fourth in the country for the most complaints reported to the FTC in 2017 for robocalls.

When people are getting all of their loved ones gifts off, IRS Senior Stakeholder Liaison Anna Falkenstein says is a time when they’re most vulnerable.

“[People] sort of let their guard down and so it’s an easier time for them to get information,” she said.

Falkenstein says online shoppers should also be wary of leaving their data on different websites, in case there’s a security breach. 

Also, check your bank account for purchases you don’t recognize. 

If someone calls or reaches out to you saying they’re from the IRS, be skeptical, especially if they’re asking for money. So you know, if you owe a balance the IRS will send you a formal notice. 

“If a taxpayer either owes a tax balance or is going to be audited, a notice is sent to them first.  So that notice is going to be providing them the basic information. If that taxpayer once receives that notice and responds to the phone number on that notice they will start the process,” Falkenstein said. “If they don’t respond, then they might get a phone call.”

Victims of scams who have had their identity taken can get assistance from the Attorney General’s Office. In 2003, the office started issuing Identity Theft Passports which can be used along with an identification from the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. 

Victims can use it if a company or law enforcement officer questions their identity, showing that their personal information has been breached. 

“It makes a victim feel like they have some type of comfort out there in making sure that someone else isn’t out there using your identity,” Harpe said. 

In order to get it, victims need a Virginia Driver’s License or identification to prove they live in the Commonwealth, file a police report or a court order to clean their record. 

In October, Attorney General Mark Herring joined over 30 other attorneys general to call on the Federal Communications Commission to give phone companies more power to block robocalls. Today he also announced 40 attorneys general are reviewing the technology major telecom companies are pursuing to combat illegal robocalls.

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