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Tax phishing scam artists now pretending to be members of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

Tax crooks just never stop. Now they're invoking the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) in a phishing scam.

TAP meeting from 2012 annual reportReal Taxpayer Advocacy Panel members at work. From left, TAP member Eileen Kelly, TAP Analyst Patti Robb, Local Taxpayer Advocate Barbara Johnson, and TAP members Jack Dell and Jackie Granger meet in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to discuss ways to improve the IRS. (Photo courtesy TAP 2012 Annual Report; click image for links to recent TAP reports)

TAP, on which I had the honor to serve, is a group of around 75+/- volunteers who work to help improve IRS customer service and responsiveness to taxpayer needs. TAP members have diverse backgrounds -- you don't have to be a tax professional to join the panel -- and there's at least one member from each of the 50 states.

Now some con artists are using TAP's good reputation for their nefarious schemes.

Asking about refunds: Most taxpayers get federal refunds and the criminals know that. So posing as TAP members, they use that tax cash hook and send taxpayers emails regarding their refunds.

This is the latest variation of the phishing scam in which crooks, purporting to be part of a legitimate organization, send unsolicited emails in an effort to convince unsuspecting victims to provide personal financial information.

Earlier this year, the IRS issued a notice that these $#@#$s crooks scum were posing as IRS agents looking to "verify" return info in a new phishing attempt, much the same way they've been using fraudulent IRS personas in the pervasive telephone scam.

Be suspicious! Don't respond to the alleged TAP emails. And definitely don't click any links in the electronic communications.

What TAP does: While TAP members love to hear from taxpayers and do meet with folks in their regular public sessions and at special forums, the panel's focus is on the overall, not individual, taxpayer experience with the IRS.

IRS Taxpayer Advocacy Panel TAP logo URL

TAP examines issues and processes within the IRS that affect a large group of taxpayers and suggest how the agency can improve them. Each year, the panel holds hundreds of public outreach events that draw thousands of participants wishing to discuss their concerns about IRS service or lack thereof.

What TAP doesn't do: TAP, however, does not work on legislative issues or with individual tax returns. Those matters are referred to Congressional representatives, directly to the IRS, or to Taxpayer Advocate Service.

And like the IRS, TAP members never request PIN numbers, passwords or similar information for credit cards, banks or other financial institutions.

That all means that, contrary to the fake email scam making the rounds, TAP does not have access to individuals' personal or financial information.

Dealing with scam attempts: In this and all tax scam instances, ignore the messages and phone calls.

But do report them to the IRS. With phishing attempts, the IRS asks that you forward it to the agency at phishing@irs.gov. Include a note about when you got it and how many such attempts were made to steal your tax data.

In addition to letting the IRS know, the agency also recommends that any folks who are targeted by tax con artists:

  1. Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to report the illegal call or email. You can use TIGTA's IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Web page or call toll-free 800-366-4484.
  2. Report the scam attempt to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Be sure to add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes section.

If you are worried about a possible unpaid tax bill or a late refund, go directly to the source yourself. Call the IRS at 800-829-1040 and talk to a real IRS employee about your options.

Most of all, be alert. The tax identity thieves will keep trying to get your personal data and ultimately your rightful refund. But you can stop them by not falling for any of their phone, email or even texting scams.

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