ABC News contributor Stephanie Zimmermann is "The Fixer."
On GMA weekends, she tackles consumer problems and cuts through the red tape when people find themselves with a problem they can't fix on their own. This Chicagoan stops by WCL to give us important information we need to know to avoid being the victim of tax fraud. Check out "The Fixer" at the ABC website http://abcnews.go.com/blotter/fixer . Here's what to look out for:
STOLEN REFUND SCAM
Continues to be a huge problem
DESCRIPTION -- It's essentially identity theft. Scammers use your personal information and your Social Security number to file a fake return and claim a refund, and have that refund sent to them. Victims don't realize it until they file their return and are told the IRS already has a return on file for them.
NEW TWIST - This year, there is an email scam - the email looks like it's coming from a tax software company or from the IRS. It's very realistic, with a real IRS or tax company logo, and when you click on it, it asks you for personal info in order to process your return. The scammers take that info and use it to file a fake return and steal your refund.
SCOPE - Billions have been lost already. The IRS is trying to stop this scam and say that they have stopped 1.4 million suspicious returns totaling $8 billion. But the thieves are still making off with money.
HOW TO PREVENT IT:
Guard your personal information - especially your Social Security number.
File your return early, to beat the scammers to the punch
WHAT IF YOU'VE BEEN SCAMMED:
Contact the IRS right away - you will need to fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit
Get a PIN from the IRS to use next year, so you can prove you are you.
You'll also need to get a police report to document the crime
WILL YOU STILL GET YOUR REFUND? Yes, you will eventually get your refund, but you'll have to wait. It will take up to 180 days, because you'll have to provide paperwork again and wait for the IRS to thoroughly vet your forms before it will process your real refund.
FAKE IRS AGENT
Another big scam that continues to hit consumers this year
DESCRIPTION - Scammers call on the phone, saying they are an IRS agent and you've been audited, and you owe back taxes and penalties. They claim that if you don't pay right away, they are going to file a court case against you ... or even arrest you. They can be very convincing. The caller ID on your phone often shows "IRS" or a (202) Washington, D.C. phone number.
NEW TWIST - Some scammers will demand that you send the money using a prepaid debit card - they'll have you provide the numbers on the card and they can access the money from there. Consumers may have a false sense of security about these cards, because they look like credit cards. They might think they have recourse if they've been scammed. But they do not. The money leaves the card instantly, just like with a wire transfer, and the consumer won't ever get that money back.
SCOPE - The feds have gotten at least 896,000 reports about this scam and are aware of more than 5,000 victims who've collectively lost more than $26.5 million. However, that's probably a low figure, because some victims will be too embarrassed to report falling for this scam.
HOW TO PREVENT IT:
Remember that the real IRS would never call you out of the blue about an audit.
You will always get a paper notification if you've been audited or you owe extra money.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU'VE BEEN SCAMMED - Contact the IRS to report the fraud. But don't count on getting your money back.
WHY CAN'T THE COPS CATCH THESE PEOPLE? Even though the victim may still have the phone number on their caller ID, it's almost impossible to catch these criminals. Many are based overseas and are using "spoofing" technology to make a fake (202) number appear on the caller ID. They could be in a boiler room or Internet café halfway around the world.
TAX PREPARER PROBLEMS
DESCRIPTION - Consumers may think that all tax preparers are the same, but there are vast differences in quality. In most states, there is no competency test or training for tax preparation work. People doing taxes can range from a highly qualified tax attorney or certified public accountant to a lower-level tax prep agent who is not certified by anyone.
Remember, YOU are responsible for turning in a legally correct tax form.
Avoid any tax preparer who boasts they can get you a guaranteed big refund
And avoid anyone who bases their fee as a percentage of the refund they will obtain. (This gives them an incentive to gin up the refund numbers.)
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF:
Research the person's qualifications (Ask: Are they a tax attorney, CPA, enrolled agent with the IRS, etc.?)
Check their business reviews
Ask upfront what the fee will be (fees can vary widely)
Find out if there's a guarantee. (Ask: Will they pay penalties and interest if they make a mistake? Will they stand by your side if there's an audit?)
ABC News 'The Fixer' Stephanie Zimmermann, Tax Scams For 2016