Consumer Tip: Tax Help, and Hindrance
In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher. March is in the middle of tax season, and here are a few tips to help you file those forms.
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By Kay Coyte
My sister is a volunteer with AARP Foundation’s wonderful, free Tax-Aide assistance program. She observes that lines are longest in February, when citizens who expect refunds rush to file their returns, and in April, when late filers who owe taxes face the deadline. Or those, like me, who simply procrastinate. This year, because April 15 falls on a Saturday and April 17 is the date the District of Columbia observes Emancipation Day, IRS offices are closed until Tuesday, April 18. A nice little bonus long weekend for us laggards.
AARP’s Tax-Aide is for filers of all ages, and is free. The only restrictions are by income (only low- and middle-income filers are accepted) and simplicity of the return (if yours involves self-employment forms or other complications, you’ll have to seek other assistance, or turn to a professional preparer).
The good news on taxes is that, from 2015 to 2016, the IRS has seen a 50 percent decrease in new identity theft reports they’ve received, and in the number of suspicious federal tax returns stopped by banks and returned to the IRS. Still, IRS director John Koskinen warned last month that there’s been a spike in robo-calls from con artists posing as IRS officials as “scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible.”
The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. It also does not threaten taxpayers with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action. In a recent twist, a fake IRS official calls students and tells them that they owe a “federal student tax” — a tax that doesn’t even exist. And if you receive suspect correspondence invoking the Tax Advocacy Panel, ignore that one, too. TAP is only an IRS advisory board, it doesn’t issue refunds – or even solicit personal information.
If you’ve been “phished” or phone scammed, don’t reply or respond. You can report it to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject: ‘IRS Phone Scam’). Or you can contact the Treasury Department’s inspector general office (TIGTA) by calling 800-366-4484 or by using the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” online form here: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. Are you really irate? You can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission by using the “FTC Complaint Assistant”; be sure to include “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.