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Beware: There’s an abundance of post-disaster scams out there

Posted on November 13, 2020

You know the old adage about the inevitability of death and taxes? Well there’s another inevitability to add to that list – scams.

In a recent AARP-sponsored study, researchers found that in the past year, more than 1 in 4 Americans experienced identity and tax fraud. Not only that, but their losses were almost $17 billion!

Criminals and scammers have excelled at using technology and fear to take advantage of those who want to get tax information, help disaster victims, repair bad debt related to job loss, sign up for “free” guaranteed COVID-19 loans, and the like.

Most scammers are extremely experienced and know just how to play you. It’s not just retirees that get scammed.

Here are some tips to help you recognize a scam and avoid becoming a victim:

  • Fake charities – Scammers use their so-called “charity” to raise money from well-intentioned people all the time.
But the money raised goes straight into their own pockets. Go to CharityNavigator.org or ConsumerReports.org/charities for ratings on any charity. Don’t see it listed? It’s bogus.
  • Fake websites — Often these websites have names that are similar to legitimate charities. Scammers take the time to create these seemingly valid websites to trick people into sending money or applying for a contest, and end up providing personal financial information.
 Don’t fall for it. Go to AARP’s Fraud Site to see if any site is legit.
  • IRS Scams — The caller will claim to be working for ― or on behalf of ― the IRS. The thieves say they can help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.
Not ever true. The IRS will always send you a letter if you are delinquent in your taxes or something has been mis-filed. They never solicit queries through email or a phone call.

How can you check on the validity of an IRS request?

  • If your request comes by phone, hang up and call back. Most phone scammers will not answer incoming phone calls. Sometimes your mobile phone will show these numbers as unlisted or unavailable.
  • Disaster victims can call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance line at 866-562-5227. Phone assistors will answer questions about tax relief or disaster-related tax issues.
 Again, the IRS won’t call you. If you want legitimate information, call them.
  • If you want to help victims of a disaster, go to IRS.gov and search the Tax Exempt Organization Search page. It will help you find qualified charities. BONUS: Donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
  • Making a contribution? Always contribute by check or credit card to have a record of your tax-deductible donation.
  • Do not provide personal financial information to anyone who solicits a contribution. This includes things like Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers or passwords.

Be wise. If something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Do your research. Protect your personal and financial information, social security number, tax records, and your donations, always.