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Beware the wolves in revenue-agent clothing

Warnings are a tricky thing.

Warn too much, too soon and people may tune out. Just ask the proverbial boy who cried wolf in the famous children's story.

But if you don't warn enough, harm may occur that could have been prevented. That is why, for example, the IRS issues a "dirty dozen" list every year of the most widely used tax scams.

In this post, let's get state-specific about warnings. We will discuss warnings issued by the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) about fraudsters posing as revenue agents from the IRS or the FTB.

The state controller, John Chiang, reminded Californians to never give out personal information to someone claiming to be a revenue agent unless that status can be confirmed through relevant information.

If someone calls claiming to be from the FTB or the IRS and asking for a Social Security number or credit-card information, you could protect yourself in a couple of different ways.

One option would be to simply hang up and call the FTB directly and request to speak to a live agent.

Of course, getting through to a live agent at the IRS is not as easy as it used to be, due to customer-service cutbacks. But the main thing is that if you are suspicious of a phone call purporting to be from a revenue agent, don’t feel you have to cough up your personal information on the spot.

Another option, other than hanging up, is to ask the person contacting you for confirmation information, such as details from a tax notice received in the mail. If the person cannot provide this information, it is a red flag that they are not really a revenue agent.

The FTB applies this same reasoning to e-mails. With the IRS, though, it is a bit different with e-mail, because the IRS has a policy of not initiating contact with taxpayers by e-mail.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Taxpayers beware: Phony IRS/FTB agents tyring to scam consumers," Claudia Buck, Feb. 6, 2014Additional source: IRS.gov, "Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts," Accessed Feb. 7, 2014

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