Last year, the Federal Trade Commission reported consumers lost more than $905 million due to fraud, scams, or identity theft. Students at colleges across the country are often the targets of these email and phone scams — and this is especially true this time of year, during tax season. A recent scam includes calls threatening arrest for an overdue “federal student tax” (which doesn’t exist!), emails with fake tax bills attached, and IRS impersonators demanding payment via gift cards or prepaid cards. Many times, these callers will “spoof” real IRS phone numbers, so the number on your phone looks like its coming from a legitimate source. It’s not!
Here are some tips to avoid being the victim of tax fraud:
- Know how the IRS initiates contact: the IRS will NEVER contact you by email or telephone. The IRS initiates contact via mail through the United States Postal Service. Forward any shady tax-related emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and report suspicious phone calls to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.
- Question out of the blue communication about tax balances: if you owe back taxes, or think you might, call a tax professional, the IRS, or the state tax department directly.
- Never pay over the phone: one of the latest scams involves the caller demanding that you pay back taxes with an iTunes card or other gift cards. Even if you owe the IRS money, the IRS never asks for a credit, debit, prepaid card, gift card, or bank information via telephone, email, text, or social media.
There are other types of fraud to that happens to students and staff. If you receive a phone call or an email requesting payment for something you do not want or did not buy, or if you receive a phone call or email from someone claiming they are the police and demand you must give them money for something, DO NOT DO IT!
Here are some tips to avoid being the victim of other types of fraud.
- Spot imposters: scammers often pretend to be someone you trust; police, the government, a charity. Do not give money or personal information to a sudden, unexpected request.
- Don’t pay upfront for a promise: someone asking you to pay upfront for things like debt relief, plagiarism protection, a prize, or to keep you out of trouble is likely trying to scam you.
- Don’t wire transfer money: wire transactions do not have fraud protections built into them — so using Western Union or MoneyGram is risky. Honest companies, charities, or government agencies DO NOT require this sort of payment.
- Don’t deposit a check from an unknown source: fake checks are often sent to people asking them to cash it and wire a portion of the money back to them. These are scams and you cannot recover the money lost.
- Don’t get forced into making a rash, emotional financial decision: phone call scams often pressure and threaten you into making quick, and often times bad, decisions. If something does not sound or feel right, trust your gut, slow down, and think through what you are being pressured to do.
If you ever have a question about a phone call or email talk to someone you trust before you give them your money or personal information. Con artists want you to make rushed decisions, but it is better to be safe than sorry.