Color of Money: Once the April 15 deadline passes, tax fraudsters go into overdrive

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- Maybe your tax return is done and you've already spent your refund.

Or you might have learned you owed the IRS this year, and you're struggling to find the funds to pay your tax bill.

No matter where you stand on your taxes, one thing is certain: After the April 15 tax deadline, the scammers will show up like the folks lining up for the club in the song "Freaks Come Out At Night" by Whodini.

With apologies to that catchy tune, the fraudsters are all over taxpayers like white on rice. And they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They are women and men. They live in the U.S. and abroad. They may sound kind or be aggressively unfriendly. But the end game is the same: They are trained to use your fear of the IRS to steal your money.

"Imposters are very clever in timing scams," said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. "Fraudsters use that post-tax-day period to take advantage of taxpayers' anxiety by pretending to be from the IRS."

So be on the lookout for the following tax-related scams.


-- "I'm calling from the IRS." You might get a disturbing call from someone impersonating an official from the agency. In this "imposter scam," the person might threaten you with prison time. Con artists in this scam frequently target seniors, scaring them into thinking they owe the IRS. They claim that if the bill isn't paid immediately, the taxpayer will be arrested.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that -- for the first time last year -- the type of impostor scam in which crooks pretend to represent someone from a government agency such as the IRS topped its list of consumer complaints.

"Scam artists are smart," said Eric Smith, a spokesman for the IRS. "They know you pay attention during tax season, and especially for those who file without paying, they know May and June is prime time for IRS billing notices. Scams are a year-round threat to taxpayers, though they can frequently peak around tax season and just after the filing deadline."

Smith said that fewer people are being successfully scammed, but the agency is still working closely with call-blocking providers and phone carriers to help identify phone scams and share information to help stop these calls.


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