National News

Back-to-School Scams: Why Students Need to Stay Alert

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According to CBS Austin, 15,000 people have been scammed out of $300 million from fake IRS calls, with Federal prosecutors indicting 61 suspected scammers from many states, including Florida and even abroad; so, IRS continues to warn people to be aware of fake IRS calls. @StandardLifeUK

Those who use iTunes cards, Amazon, PayPal or a reloadable card, such as Reloadit, Vanilla, or MoneyPak, or transfer money through Western Union or MoneyGram are at risk for the newest tactics of back-to-school scams as scammers ask for these payment methods because they are hard to track or cancel payments.

iTunes gift cards are especially popular this year as they seem to be the easiest for people to buy and the easiest for scammers to get ahold of. Once a person tells a scammer the code from the back of an iTunes card, the scammer takes control of the card and the value of money on it. After a scammer redeems the code on the iTunes card, a person cannot get his or her money back.

The IRS has issued multiple warnings to taxpayers about phone calls from IRS impersonators. This year, the scam tactics have varied from only being a live person to now also involving automated calls, in an attempt to reach the maximum amount of people, which increases the number of victims the scammers can swindle.

The calls are typically very aggressive, with victims reporting to have been threatened that they will be reported to law enforcement and arrested, having their driver’s license revoked, or even deported if they do not pay the money quickly enough, as they are frequently told it is their last warning from the IRS.

The scammers typically claim to be the IRS, a tax company, or a state revenue department to demand payment from a victim or even inquire about the victim qualifying for a grant or getting a loan; or scammers can claim to be a family member or an online love interest in need of monetary assistance.

The reason the scammers are able to claim to be so many different people and to be from so many different places is because they have the ability and technology to make spoofed calls and fake caller ID information. In fact, scammers can alter the caller ID on incoming phone calls in a “spoofing” attempt to make it seem like the IRS, the local police department, or another agency is calling. This is especially likely to happen if the person hangs up on the caller.

Scammers also tend to have at least one piece of real information about the person being called, such as the name of the person’s school, in order to make them think the call is real.

There are also scams involving a “Federal Student Tax.” There is no such tax as a “Federal Student Tax,” according to the IRS. The IRS is urging taxpayers to be aware and cautious and is providing descriptions of how the scams usually take place and what can done about it.

Numerous tactics have been used this year. One tactic is demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other types of gift cards. Another scheme is soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals. A third tactic is “verifying” tax return information over the phone.

Other ploys include pretending to be from the tax preparation industry and imitating software providers to trick tax professionals.

The most likely tactic for students to fall for is scammers demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.”

Taxpayers should also be vigilant of scammers leaving urgent call-back requests telling victims to call back to settle their “tax bill.”

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is urging taxpayers to remain vigilant and not fall prey to these calls, as well as to watch for clear warning signs as scammers change tactics.

“These scams and schemes continue to evolve nationwide, and now they’re trying to trick students,” said Koskinen. “Although variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round, they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike.”

It is important to remember that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed the person who owes money a bill. They will not threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have someone arrested for not paying. Neither will the IRS demand someone to pay taxes without giving the person the opportunity to question or appeal the amount that the agency says is owed.

Also, the IRS will never require people to use a specific payment method for their taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If persons’ iTunes card codes have been taken by possible scammers, they should call Apple Support at 1-800-275-2273 right away. They should tell them what happened and ask if they can disable the card. Also, they can go back to the store that sold the card and talk with the customer service staff.

Protection from scams can be increased by signing up for the latest tips, advice, and free scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/scams.

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