KINGMAN - Tax filing season is upon us, which brings not only more headaches and paperwork, but a surge in scams, the IRS warns.
The Internal Revenue Service has issued an alert for taxpayers to watch out for identity theft, which remains near the top of the agency's "Dirty Dozen" list of scams during the filing season.
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone steals your Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.
While the IRS has made significant strides over the past several years to address this issue, it remains a top security concern as the agency works to protect taxpayers and help victims.
"They won't get mine," Jackie Robinson promised while having her taxes prepared at Kathryn Heidenreich Adult Center in Kingman. "They'd have to shoot me first."
Robinson said she recently received a phone call from someone telling her she'd won a grand sweepstakes prize, but needed to send $10,000 to claim it.
She hung up and called the sheriff's office.
"I tell them their phone number is being tracked. They won't call back, I guarantee it," she said.
The "Dirty Dozen" list is compiled annually by the IRS and details a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year, Arizona's IRS spokesman Bill Brunson told the Daily Miner.
The top 12 list changes from year to year, but many of the common scams peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do it for them, he said.
Scams can take on many sophisticated forms, Brunson noted. He urges people to use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.
Also, keep personal information safe by protecting computers with updated security software and only giving out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary.
The IRS understands that identity theft is a frustrating, complex process for victims, Brunson said. While identity thieves steal information from sources outside the tax system, the IRS is often the first to inform a victim that identity theft has occurred.
Mohave County Sheriff's office spokeswoman Trish Carter said deputies are called out on a number of scams, some of which involve people impersonating IRS agents.
The sheriff's office issued a warning to the public in December of residents reporting telephone calls from a person claiming to be from the IRS. One woman from Beaver Dam was asked to pay $10,000.
"They run throughout the year, but yes, the peak season is the first few months of the year," Carter said. "People's minds are more on it because of the pressures and scammers tend to call or email during the first part of the year."
Scammers take many approaches to deceive people into giving them money, she added. They'll tell you there's a lawsuit against you for back taxes owed to the IRS. If you don't pay immediately by credit card, money order or cashier's check, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and the sheriff will be at your residence today.
That's not how the IRS collects taxes, Carter said. The IRS will not initiate contact someone "out of the blue," but through official mail correspondence, she said.
"The IRS and the sheriff's office do not conduct business in this manner," she said. "If you suspect fraud, contact your local law enforcement office."
If people feel they're being pressured to respond immediately with some sort of payment by cash or credit card, they should call and verify that the business is real before providing any information or sending money, Carter added.
"The main thing is people giving information away on the Internet or on their phone," said Donald Lynch, certified public accountant. "Just hang up on them. I don't care who it is ... the IRS, Mohave County Sheriff's Office, banks ... just hang up on them. If it's someone from the sheriff's office, call them back. They may not be happy, but they'll understand."
As part of the Security Summit initiative, the IRS is working with states and the tax industry to enhance coordination and create a more secure system for taxpayers.
The IRS will share details of fraudulent schemes detected this season so industry and government have the same information and can adjust accordingly to provide increased protection.
Many changes will be invisible to the taxpayer, but more than 20 shared data elements are critical to making sure the IRS, states and industry can better verify the taxpayer and the legitimacy of the tax return.
In the last three years, the IRS' criminal investigation unit helped convict some 2,000 identity thieves. The IRS initiated 776 identity theft related investigations last year, resulting in 774 sentencings.
The courts continue to impose significant jail time with an average of 38 months. The longest sentence was over 27 years.
Rex Becker, volunteer tax preparer at the adult center, said he's never had a problem with identity theft on tax returns. He makes tax filers bring in paperwork such as property taxes and identification.
He advises seniors not to give out any information over the phone.
"I had a senior who got a call and I told her the IRS and state will not contact you by phone," Becker said. "Because seniors are so vulnerable, they lead a senior into giving out their Social Security number and birth date. Just don't give out any information to anyone you're not acquainted with."
For more tips on how to avoid IRS scams, go to www.irs.gov.