ATLANTA, GA – With tax season approaching, Attorney General Chris Carr is encouraging Georgia taxpayers to protect themselves from tax-related scams and tax identity theft.

“As Georgians prepare to file their taxes this year, we are offering a few tips and warnings to protect them from con artists who may try to swindle Georgia taxpayers out of their hard-earned money,” said Attorney General Chris Carr.

“The Department of Revenue continuously adapts our fraud management system to catch tax identity theft and tax fraud once returns are filed,” said Revenue Commissioner David Curry. “However, I would like to strongly encourage taxpayers to help combat this problem by learning how to protect their information and by doing their due diligence to ensure they are entrusting their confidential taxpayer information to a reputable tax professional.”

Here’s what consumers need to know:

IRS Impersonation Scams

In this scam, fraudsters contact consumers by phone, purporting to be an IRS agent and claiming that the consumer owes the IRS money for back taxes. The scammer threatens arrest or legal action if the consumer does not immediately pay the money owed via wire transfer, gift cards or pre-paid debit card. Consumers can easily be convinced that these calls are real as the scammer may know a consumer’s full or partial Social Security number (SSN) or even use spoofing software that causes the IRS name and/or number to show up in your caller ID.

Here is what you need to know to avoid this scam:

  • The IRS will never call a consumer about unpaid taxes or penalties; the agency typically contacts consumers by letter via the U.S. Mail.
  • They won’t leave a message threatening to sue you, arrest you or deport you if you don’t pay right away.
  • The IRS won’t demand a specific form of payment, such as an iTunes gift card, Green Dot Money Pak or wire transfer. 
  • If you get a call purporting to be from the IRS, never send money. Instead, hang up and either a) report the scam to the FTC and to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov or by calling 1-800-366-4484; or b) If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
  • If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

Tax Identity Theft

This occurs when a fraudster uses your Social Security number (SSN) to file a tax return in your name and collect your refund. It also occurs when someone uses your SSN to get a job. Typically, consumers don’t realize they have been victims of tax identity theft until they get a written notice from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed using their SSN. If someone used your SSN to get a job, and the employer reports that person’s income to the IRS using your SSN, the IRS will send you a notice saying you received wages but didn’t report them.

The best way to avoid tax identity theft is to file your taxes as early as possible before a scammer has the chance to use your Social Security number to file a fraudulent return. This year the IRS will start accepting returns on February 12, about two weeks later than usual. The deadline for filing your taxes is still April 15.

As added security, tax filers can get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) from the IRS before they file their returns. This is a six-digit number, which, in addition to your Social Security number, verifies your identity. It is important to note that you cannot opt-out once you get an IP PIN. Once you apply for it, you must provide the IP Pin every time you file your federal tax returns – this year and in all future years. The IRS will provide your IP PIN online. A new IP PIN is generated for each filing season and can be retrieved starting in mid-January of each year by logging into the account you create. Visit irs.gov/individuals/get-an-identity-protection-pin for more information about the program.

If you are the victim of tax identity theft, contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490. You should also file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Free Filing and Tips

Many taxpayers are eligible for free tax preparation and e-filing through the IRS’ Free File program or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). The IRS says that most taxpayers due a refund for the 2020 tax year will get it within three weeks if they file electronically and have the money deposited directly into their bank account.

The IRS’ Free File Program is a partnership with tax preparers and software companies that offer free online preparation and e-filing of your tax returns to individuals and families with adjusted gross incomes of $72,000 or less. To learn more, visit www.irs.gov/uac/Free-File:-Do-Your-Federal-Taxes-for-Free

The Georgia Department of Revenue is working with software vendors to offer free electronic filing services to qualified Georgia taxpayers. Qualifying taxpayers can prepare and file both federal and Georgia individual income tax returns electronically using approved software for less or free of charge. Visit the Georgia Department of Revenue’s Free File Alliance at dor.georgia.gov/free-file-alliance.

If your adjusted gross income is more than $72,000, you can use free fillable forms via the IRS website (for federal return only); however, you need to know how to do your taxes yourself and have access to your 2019 tax return.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free basic income tax preparation to those who generally make $57,000 or less, people with disabilities, and those with limited English-speaking ability.  Due to COVID-19, a number of VITA sites are closed for an undetermined period of time. To locate an open VITA site near you, use the VITA Locator Tool at irs.gov/individuals/find-a-location-for-free-tax-prep.

If, on the other hand, you decide to hire someone to prepare your taxes for you, make sure you research the tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.

More tax tips can be found on the websites of the IRS and the Georgia Department of Revenue at irs.gov and dor.georgia.gov.

NOTE:  The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program sites, which in years past have offered free tax help to individuals aged 60 or older, are all closed for an undetermined period of time due to COVID-19.