Scammers play on our emotions and generosity. They succeed by being clever, calculating, and often cruel. But they also succeed because their victims have not been forewarned.
That stops here.
The Montana Department of Justice tracks scams moving through our state. Our investigators and attorneys work hard to help defrauded Montanans. But many scams are difficult to prosecute. That’s why knowledge is power. Protect yourself against rip-offs. Tell your parents, your children, and your neighbors about current scams. Read about how to protect yourself on this website and sign up for Scam Alerts here.
Current Scam: Tax Scammers Target Taxpayers
Preparing one’s taxes can be a frustrating, daunting task for many people. Official forms are sometimes confusing and some taxpayers may be afraid of filing because they think they owe a lot of money to the IRS or worry they may owe penalties for failing to file in the past.
Scammers are playing on this fear and confusion, targeting Montanans as the deadline for filing taxes nears.
But it’s not all bad news: There are many free services for Montanans facing tax trouble or who have tax questions. Also, online filing now means Montanans can get their federal tax return automatically deposited into their bank account in as little as 10 days.
The Office of Consumer Protection at the Montana Department of Justice has been researching tax scams. Here is a guide to avoiding rip-offs, as well as some tips on how to save money at tax time:
IRS E-mail Scams: Beware of e-mails purporting to be from the IRS or the U.S. Department of Treasury. Scam artists use tax season to phish for all sorts of personal information, including social security numbers, bank account numbers, pin numbers, names, birthdates, and other valuable information. These e-mails are often convincingly realistic, with government seals and intimidating language. Sometimes the e-mails will even ask the recipient to wire money in order to pay off “fines” or other fees. The e-mail may redirect the recipient to a website which is designed to look like a legitimate government website, but is in fact a fake site used by scammers to steal more information. The actual IRS does not solicit your personal information through e-mail. In fact, they already have your personal information. The real IRS website is www.irs.gov.
The IRS also offers Taxpayer Assistance Centers in every state, including six in Montana. A complete list is available here. In addition to offering other services, center personnel can tell you if an e-mail you have received is a phishing scam from a criminal seeking your personal financial information or a legitimate correspondence from the federal government.
Misleading Mailers: Some outfits send letters to taxpayers that appear to be official IRS documents warning citizens that the federal government has attached a lien on their home or levied other kinds of fines for failing to pay taxes. In small print, these documents disclose that the sender is not the IRS, but an entity that can help you deal with the IRS. These mailers are misleading and fail to inform taxpayers that free, local help is available in many Montana communities for taxpayers with questions. Often times, this free help is offered regardless of income level. Other programs are available only to lower and middle-income taxpayers.
Here is a list of some of the programs available: As mentioned earlier, the IRS itself is a resource and offers personal help at Taxpayer Assistance Centers in six of Montana’s largest cities. A complete list of locations can be found here. If your income is less than $49,000 or you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, IRS employees at the centers can prepare your taxes for you for free. If you make more than that, the centers can still assist with tax questions and can help you set up a payment plan if you owe money, in addition to other kinds of tax help.
In addition, the IRS certifies volunteers throughout the state and nation who can also assist with tax preparation for low to moderate income taxpayers – generally taxpayers with an income below $49,000. These Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites, or VITA sites, are located throughout Montana, including in many rural communities not served by other IRS programs. A complete list is here. Montana VITA sites can be found in Libby, Lame Deer and points in between.