Caution needed this time of year as tax scams abound

It’s that time of year, when people start preparing their 2018 tax returns by assembling W-2 forms, receipts or any other document that will help them report their earnings and deductions to the state and federal governments.

And equally right on schedule, officials said, will be the tax scammers, who will attempt, and in too many cases, regrettably, succeed, in obtaining confidential, personal information.

“Taxpayers need to be extra alert for possible scams and schemes during this time of year and throughout the income tax filing season,” Deputy State Treasurer Glenn White, head of the treasury department’s Tax Administration Group, said in a press release. “When taxpayers proactively look for scams, they are less likely to be a victim of a tax-related identity theft and other cyber criminal activities.”

Among the goals is to obtain confidential information so bogus tax returns can be filed and refund received. Cybercriminals often alter caller ID numbers and emails to make it look like the treasury department, the Internal Revenue Service or another official agency is contacting a taxpayer. Scammers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.

Here’s an informal list of things that a bonafide treasury department official would not do:

• Initiate a phone call or email to ask for personal information.

• Call or email to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the treasury department will first send a bill through the U.S. mail to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

• Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.

• Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Taxpayers who have received a call or email from a scammer should report the case to the IRS through the web or by calling 800-366-4484. And, check out www.michigan.gov/identitytheft