With a new tax season under way, the Franchise Tax Board reminds taxpayers to take steps to protect themselves from scam artists seeking to steal refunds and identities.
As a new tax year begins, it is important that taxpayers stay vigilant and be aware of the latest tactics scammers use, so they can avoid falling victim to fraud or identity theft, said State Controller Betty T. Yee, who chairs the Franchise Tax Board.
Scammers often prey on taxpayers by impersonating Internal Revenue Service or Franchise Tax Board (FTB) employees. The most common fraud-related complaints FTB sees tend to involve a taxpayer receiving a phone call, letter, or email asking for their personal information to either release their refund or process their tax return.
While some of these complaints turn out to be based on legitimate requests or calls from the IRS or FTB, taxpayers are encouraged to remain on high alert whenever they receive a request for personal information.
If FTB or IRS needs to reach a taxpayer to verify a return or discuss a bill, both agencies begin by sending a letter via postal mail. If the taxpayer does not respond, the FTB or IRS may reach out by phone, with courteous agents clearly identifying themselves. Further, neither agency will threaten a taxpayer nor demand immediate tax payment over the phone.
A scam can come in many forms. Taxpayers should be suspicious of:
- Any phone call or email requesting passwords or information about credit cards or bank accounts. (FTB and IRS agents never ask for these details.)
- Threats to contact local police or other law enforcement if a tax debt is not paid.
- Demands for payment via third-party or pre-paid debit cards.
- Claims that they can settle tax debt for pennies on the dollar. (There are legitimate tax professionals that can help you make a valid offer or settlement request.)
- Ghost preparers (A ghost preparer does not sign a tax return they prepare. They will print the return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS or FTB. For e-filed returns, the ghost will prepare but refuse to digitally sign as the paid preparer, which should raise suspicions.)
If you receive a threatening or fishy phone call, simply hang up.
If you receive a letter purporting to be from FTB or the IRS that appears suspicious, contact the FTB at (800) 852-5711 or the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to verify authenticity.
Taxpayers may also check the Letters webpage at ftb.ca.gov or the Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter webpage at irs.gov (www.irs.gov/individuals/understanding-your-irs-notice-or-letter).
If you receive a suspicious inquiry regarding a tax settlement program with FTB, please contact us at (916) 845-4787. You can also find additional information at the Offer In Compromise webpage (www.ftb.ca.gov/forms/misc/4045.html).
Taxpayers are urged to report suspected tax scams and identity theft schemes to FTB as soon as possible, preferably online at www.ftb.ca.gov/help/scams/index.html.
The IRS offers a list of common scams and encourages taxpayers to forward phishing scam emails to the IRS at [email protected].
If you are suspicious that you may have been the target of a scam, don’t hesitate to use one of the above contact options.
Unfortunately, tax preparers have increasingly become targets for cybercriminals. Sophisticated scammers steal personal data from tax preparers and businesses.
Preparers and business owners who believe they have been targeted should call the FTB at (916) 845-7088 and select option 1.