(NEXSTAR) – The Internal Revenue Service recently announced it is contacting millions of people who are still owed stimulus payments, earned income tax credits, child tax credits or other benefits. Now scammers are looking to cash in on the news, too, experts say.
If you’re one of the over 9 million Americans believed to be owed a payment from the IRS, there are a few telltale things to watch out for to avoid falling victim to a scam, tax attorney Adam Brewer told Nexstar.
“The IRS will never text you and will rarely, if ever, call you,” Brewer said in an email. “If someone texts you claiming to be from the IRS you can be 100% certain it is a scam.”
In late September, the IRS warned of a recent spike in IRS-themed texting scams designed to steal personal and financial information. In 2022 alone, the IRS says it has reported thousands of so-called “smishing” scams that are carried out by text message.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS, it is almost surely a scam.
“The IRS sends letters,” Brewer said. If you think you are owed money by the IRS, then look for a letter in the mail, go directly to the IRS’s website at IRS.gov, or consult with a tax professional.”
Why didn’t so many people initially get the IRS payments?
Many of those people didn’t initially get their payments because the IRS didn’t have their information on file from a recent tax return. People with very little or no income, for instance, aren’t required to pay taxes.
“Throughout the pandemic, IRS and Treasury struggled to get COVID-relief payments into the hands of some people — especially those with lower incomes, limited internet access, or experiencing homelessness,” the Government Accountability Office, an internal government watchdog, said.
The IRS is sending out millions of letters encouraging people to file a free 2021 tax return to claim the benefits.
“If you are going to file to claim your stimulus payments then do it electronically, if possible,” Brewer told Nexstar. “The IRS has a massive backlog of paper tax returns so an electronically filed return will result in you receiving your stimulus money faster.”
Even Americans exempt from filing taxes and who aren’t owed a payment may want to file a return.
“Some people may be well served by filing each year even if they don’t have a filing responsibility,” Brewer said. “One benefit, while we are on the topic of scams, is that filing an income tax return can prevent someone else from filing in your name and fraudulently claiming a big refund.”
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If you think you have been the victim of a phishing scam, the IRS encourages you to report it.