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The dubious artistry of tax scammers: new tricks to avoid

To use the word "artist" in connection with the word "scam" is an insult to artists. After all, at its best, art illuminates truth about life and exposes falsehood.

And yet there is another meaning of "artist," referring to someone highly effective at trickery and deception. This is certainly the case with the scammers who continue to find new ways to trick taxpayers into giving out sensitive personal information.

In this post, we will update you on that long-running story.

One of the tricks tax scammers use is to call people on the phone posing as revenue agents and ask for a Social Security number or the numbers of financial accounts. Historically, such calls have often targeted older people, immigrants and other vulnerable groups. The scammers try to force people into paying taxes they don't really owe, perhaps by threatening them with arrest or deportation if they don't.

The IRS is now warning taxpayers that scammers have widened their net to target virtually everyone. In less than two years, there have been at least 4,000 victims of tax scams executed by criminals posing as revenue officials. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the amount of losses from these scams is more than $20 million.

One new trick used by scammers is to make it look on caller ID as if a call came from the IRS or a state agency, such as the department that handles drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations.

Indeed, that dirty trick is often only the opening gambit. Scammers may follow up with repeated calls or emails, trying to pressure people into paying tax debt they probably don't even owe. The scammers may even do research online to get information about you to make these threats sound more credible.

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