All posts by bbbhouston

Tax Season Scams

It all starts with a phone call. The caller ID reads “IRS” and the agent on the other end of the line provides you with his name and badge number. He may even know personal details about you as he claims you owe back taxes, which you must pay immediately by pre-paid debit card or wire transfer before he sends local law enforcement to your home to pick you up and haul you off to jail!

When you read the above scenario you may think there is no way you’d ever fall for such a farce. We are warned year after year of scams and schemes that come along every tax season, but still these con artists continue to make victims of well-meaning taxpayers. They are professionals scammers, experts at creating a sense of urgency, and all too convincing of the threats they concoct to scare us.
Don’t fall victim to scammers calling claiming to be IRS employees. Impersonators will call, demand payment, and even threaten legal action if you refuse to cooperate in their scheme. Remember, the IRS will NEVER:
• Call to demand immediate payment—the IRS will first mail you a bill and then allow for opportunity for you to question or appeal the amount owed
• Require specific methods of payments such as a prepaid debit card
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
• Threaten to bring in local police to have you arrested for non-payment
We have to be increasingly vigilant in this ever advancing technological age as these imposters now have more avenues than ever to swindle us out of our money and personal identifying information. The IRS has reported a new phishing scam where unsuspecting victims receive an email, apparently from the IRS, and are then lead to a bogus website resembling the official IRS website to “update your IRS e-file immediately.” Beware: these emails are not from the IRS and the websites closely resemble the legitimate site making the scam hard to detect. Look for mention of USA.gov or IRSgov (without a dot between “IRS” and “gov”) in the message.
Though the IRS offers a completely safe and convenient e-filing option for us to file our taxes, they will NOT initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request person or financial information. If you suspect you are receiving these messages do not respond or click on any links! Instead, you can forward these emails directly to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.
For free tax help and preparation you can contact the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program help line at 800-906-9887 to find a location nearest you.
If you are unsure about the authenticity of any call or email you receive this tax season please don’t hesitate to call us here at the BBB at 713-331-6141.

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The Telephone is NOT Your Friend!

written by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Think back to those long ago days when the telephone was your family’s lifeline to the world.  I remember when my grandparents, who lived on a farm in Wharton County, got their first phone back in the early 1950’s.  It was a party line and I was always amazed that my grandmother could tell the rings apart.  Plus I laughed when she groused about the neighbor who was always eavesdropping.

But it was a very big deal because we could now talk directly to them plus they had a way to reach out if there was an emergency.  The only people calling in those days were friends and family.  Sadly, that has changed tremendously in our fast  paced world with ever changing technology.

On my landline at home, I would venture to say that 95% of the calls I get are from someone wanting to sell me something, asking for a “charitable” contribution, or the scammers wanting to steal my money and my identity.  The phone has changed from being our lifeline to friends and family to a sales tool, and more importantly, it gives crooks and thieves a safe way to steal from you while you sit comfortably inside your house.  The scammers want either your real money or want to steal your Medicare dollars and that is why seniors are such a target.

What can you do?  First, use your answering machine to screen your calls.  In other words, never answer the phone unless you hear a message from someone you know.  Secondly, prepare a script.  Think through how you handle these calls and prepare something in writing.  Here are some ideas for you:

  • If the call is from a charity, tell them to send you info in writing.  Be sure and add that you do not give money to strangers over the telephone.
  • If they are selling something, ask for information in writing.  If this is a one time opportunity, tell them you do not make decisions over the phone.  And repeat that they should send the information to you by mail.
  • Ask the caller for their name, the name of their company, and their call back number.  Tell them you will get back to them after you verify the offer.

Most importantly, LISTEN for these red flags:

  • Are they asking for credit card information?
  • Are they asking for banking information?
  • Are they asking for personal information like your Medicare or Social Security numbers?
  • Offer is only good today.  A real company will give you time to think and verify.
  • They know something about you but need to verify the correct information.
  • If any of these are happening…HANG UP!

If you have questions about any offers or calls you get, feel free to contact me at 713-341-6184.