As tax season gets underway, the Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers to be on the lookout for potential scams.
Already, the IRS said it has received reports in Georgia and the Southeast of a tax scam centered on the promise of an education tax credit.
IRS Spokesman Mark Green said that the scam has been identified on college campuses in the Southeast region.
“The scam artist is basically looking for Social Security numbers or checking or savings account information from the college student, as well as a preparation fee,” said Green. “The scam artist will put up flyers on college campuses throughout the Southeast, as well as advertise on the Internet and try to lure the college student in where he or she will provide that information. Once they get that information, they file a tax return on their behalf, do not pay them back for the preparation fee, and use the checking or savings account information for their own means.”
The IRS reported that it has already detected and stopped thousands such bogus refund claims in recent weeks.
In addition, Green said that in many cases scammers are targeting not just college students, but seniors and people who did not even go to college or attended decades ago.
Green did say that there are some legitimate tax benefits related to education.
“There is a legitimate education credit out there,” said Green. “In most cases, we will have all the legwork you need by helping you fill out the tax return if you are eligible for it. Using word-of-mouth and giving out information over the Internet or by telephone is a no-no because of the simple fact that the information you provide is your personal information which will be used for fraudulent gain.”
The IRS also said taxpayers should be aware of a number of things to avoid becoming ensnared in a scam. Those warning signs include homemade flyers or brochures implying credits or refunds are available without proof of eligibility or income, unfamiliar for-profit tax services selling refund and credit schemes to the membership of local churches, internet solicitations that direct individuals to toll-free numbers and then solicit social security numbers, offers of free money with no documentation required, and unsolicited offers to prepare a return and split the refund.
In general, Green said that people need to use caution with their tax information.
“Safeguard your Social Security number and your checking or savings account information,” said Green. “If you do choose to use a tax preparer, please choose wisely. Choose one who is credible, knowledgeable, and accountable. By all means, before you give the information to that tax preparer and before you sign a return, go over each line item. If there is anything on there you have a question on that he or she cannot answer, do not sign the return.”
In addition, the IRS said that it does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail, text, or social media to request personal or financial information.