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Timely topic for late January: those annual bogus IRS calls

There’s really just one thought that should immediately come to the forefront of your mind when you pick up the phone and hear a person on the other end identify himself or herself as an Internal Revenue Service agent.

Scam.

Every year around this time, the “we’re calling from the IRS” ruse gets dusted off and tried out on taxpayers across the country who scammers hope are unwary and, thus, potential targets for a bit of asset depletion.

Although such phone scams don’t seem to offer much for con artists on a call-by-call basis (that is, only a small percentage of persons called take the bait), it’s quite a different story in the aggregate.

That means this: The criminals carry on, undeterred, and just keep on calling. Occasionally, they succeed. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration notes about 290,000 reports of IRS-related phone scams nationally since late 2013.

The stated tally for the thieves: about 3,000 duped responders and $14 million out-of-pocket losses.

And, of course, those numbers could be understated, given that some people don’t even know they have been scammed, with others being too embarrassed to report that they have been victimized.

As a timely media reminder on IRS phone scams notes, government tax officials who want to get in touch with a taxpayer almost exclusively rely upon the postal service to do so. Agents do not call on the phone to issue threats or dire pronouncements. They do not demand immediate payment by prepaid debit cards. And they do not solicit personal information, such as a Social Security number (the IRS already knows that number) or credit card information.

Tax season can be draining enough for many filers without the added strain of being targeted by scammers. Exercising common sense and being vigilant concerning outside contacts can help ensure that a filer won’t be taken in by a thieve and lose money in the process.

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