Each year, the IRS warns taxpayers about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams. Some of these cons show up on the list each year, while others are new. Tax scams are most common during tax season or times of crisis. The COVID pandemic created opportunities to try steal money and information from taxpayers.
Taxpayers are reminded to beware of these ongoing swindles that include:
- Phishing involves fake emails or websites to obtain personal information. The IRS never initiates contact by email. Do not click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Also be wary of keywords, such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “Stimulus.”
- Fake charities are a reoccurring concern. Criminals often take advantage of natural disasters and other situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to set up a phony charity, and may even claim to be working with the IRS to help victims.
- Threatening impersonator phone calls claim to be collecting money for the IRS. The scammer uses fear and urgency to demand immediate payment. Senior citizens and their caregivers should be especially alert for this type of fraud.
- Unscrupulous return preparers, called “ghost” preparers, expose their clients to serious filing mistakes and tax fraud. Ghost preparers do not sign the tax returns they prepare, as required by law. While most tax professionals provide honest service, others should be avoided.
- Fake payments with repayment demands involve scammers tricking taxpayers into sending them their refund. The criminal steals or obtains personal data to file a bogus tax return. Once the money is in the bank account, the criminal poses as an IRS employee to request that the money be returned immediately, perhaps in the form of gift cards.
Some recent tax scams that have surfaced include
- Offer-in-compromise mills involves misleading tax debt resolution companies exaggerating their ability to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar.” The offer requires that taxpayers meet certain legal requirements. Dishonest businesses enroll unqualified candidates to collect hefty fees from taxpayers already deep in debt.
- Economic impact payment or refund theft, in which criminals filed false tax returns or bogus information with the IRS to redirect refunds to a wrong address or bank account.
- Social media scams may use COVID-19 to trick people. The scammer uses information on social media to send emails pretending to be a family member, friend, or co-worker, which can result in tax-related identity theft.
- Ransomware takes advantage of human and technical weaknesses to infect a computer, network, or server. Invasive software (malware) can track keystrokes and other computer activity. An infected computer can allow access to personal and financial data. Or, a ransom request appears in a pop-up window.
To avoid these scams: (1) be aware of potential cons; (2) check with the IRS or your bank if something is suspicious; (3) keep your computer system and passwords secure, and (4) avoid deals that are “too good to be true.”
For additional information on tax scams, click here.
- Have students describe these situations to other people, and ask them what actions they might take to avoid these scams.
- Have students create a video or visual presentation to warn others of these potential scams.
- Why do some people get taken by tax scams and other frauds?
- Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various tax scams.
With growing numbers of video streaming services and product box programs, these subscriptions are becoming the newest budget buster. These seemingly small monthly charges add up, lowering a person’s ability to save along with a potential for increased debt. These ongoing financial commitments leave people with a lower percentage of free cash flow, or unencumbered income.
Subscription service spending is often overlooked especially when the payments are on auto pilot. A $4 or $8 monthly fee may not seem like much. However, research indicates that subscription services are an increasing financial burden as most people underestimate the amount. In one study, 84 percent of respondents estimated monthly spending on these services at about $80; the actual amount was over $110. In addition to video steaming services, people sign up for automatic monthly shipments of beer, wine, contact lenses, cosmetics, meal kits, pet food, razors, vitamins, and other products.
For additional information on subscription services, click here.
- Have students survey several people to determine the types and amounts of subscription services being used.
- Have students create a financial analysis for amounts saved over several years by reducing or eliminating subscription services.
- What factors influence a person’s decision to use a subscription service?
- Describe suggested actions that a person might take to reduce or eliminate subscription services.
To spend less and save more, consider an “anchoring” system. One example of an anchor is the price of an item to determine if that is an appropriate amount of money to spend for the item.
Anchors prevent shoppers from being overwhelmed by the many choices, prices, and features. You can create your own anchors by:
- setting the maximum price you are willing to spend for an item.
- considering the value of an item in relation to the number of hours you have to work to pay for it.
- comparing the cost in relation to another item. If you buy coffee costing $2.50 a cup and want a sweater costing $50, view the sweater as costing 20 cups of coffee. Your “coffee” anchor will help you determine how valuable the sweater is to you.
When buying a home, you may be encouraged to look at properties outside your price range. Anchoring yourself at a price limit will avoid overspending, make you feel more in control, and encourage wiser financial decisions.
For additional information on financial anchoring, click here.
- Have students talk to several people to obtain information about how they determine the price they are willing to pay for an item.
- Have students create a video presentation that demonstrates various anchoring methods.
- How might anchoring help improve personal financial literacy and money management activities?
- Describe anchors people might used to determine the price they would be willing to pay for an item.
Hacks – skills and shortcuts – are used in many life settings. For personal finance, here are some tips that can help stop money leakages:
- Only use credit cards with financial advantages, such as cashback; always pay off credit card balances on time.
- Making weekly payments, instead of monthly, helps to save interest and reduces the amount owed faster.
- Pay off loans/debts with the highest interest rates first.
- You might consider paying off a debt with another loan if the new loan has a much lower interest rate.
- When shopping online, leave the item in the cart for several days or weeks; the price may be lower or you may decide you don’t really need the item.
- Consider bulk purchases with friends to qualify for free shipping.
- Take advantage of seasonal sales.
- Unsubscribe from email offers.
- Avoid household clutter to save time and money.
- Cook your own meals; online videos and recipes offer fast, easy meals.
- Talk to others for investment advice.
For additional information on personal finance hacks, click here.
- Have students tell their personal experience with tech, travel, or personal finance hacks.
- Have students create a video to dramatize various personal finance hacks.
- How would you decide if a personal hack will be of value to you?
- Describe actions that might be used to communicate personal finance hacks to others.
Each year, more than 1.5 million taxpayers obtain refund anticipation loans (RALs). This year, the number may be higher as a result of the government shutdown. While, RALs provide faster access to your money, they come with high fees and should only be used as a last resort. These “cash advances” are a potential for scams; before using these loans, take these actions:
- Assess the cost. While some national tax chains promote this service as a “free” cash advance, fees may apply for applying for the advance, checking your credit, and transferring the money to you. Costs for your refund advance check range from $29 to $65. If your refund is on a prepaid debit card, there will likely be additional fees.
- Beware of loan terms based on timing. Additional charges may occur if your refund is delayed.
- Compare other options. Seek less expensive, small-dollar, short-term loans from a community bank or credit union, or a zero-percent credit card. A $35 charge to defer a $350 tax preparation fee for two weeks has an APR of 174 percent.
- To avoid late fees for bills, contact your creditors. Utility companies and medical providers may offer no-cost extensions or no-cost payment plans.
Always be sure you are doing business with a reputable tax preparer. Check credentials and references. Avoid tax preparers who charge fees based your refund amount, or who deposit your refund in their bank account. Another fraudulent activity is filing false information to increase the amount of the refund.
For additional information on tax refund advances, click here.
- Have students search online for costs for refund anticipation loans.
- Have students prepare a video presentation on avoiding refund anticipation loans.
- What advice would you give a person planning to obtain a refund anticipation loan?
- How might community organizations and government agencies assist people who are considering a refund anticipation loan?
It’s possible to add $500 or $1,000 to your savings with a simple action. Clark.com suggests using store receipts to save for the future. Many retailers display a “You Saved” amount on a receipt for items on sale and store discounts. By putting this amount in a savings account you can avoid spending the “saved” money on other items.
Collecting receipts in an envelope or box, or scanning them to an app, can also help analyze buying habits to make wiser purchases in the future and not make as many trips to the store. This action can result in an extra amount each month added to your savings. This money can be added to your emergency fund or retirement account.
For additional information on the receipt savings trick, click here.
- Have students locate examples of receipts that show “amount saved.”
- Have students talk to others to obtain ideas for methods for building a person’s savings account.
- What do you believe are the benefits and drawbacks of using this system?
- Describe other actions that might be taken to motivate you and others to build your savings?