Vehicle mileage tax pilot is part of infrastructure deal
Pondering potential AdvCTC payback problems

Don't fall for scary tax scams on Friday the 13th or any day

Friday 13th via Giphy

COVID-19 just won't let go. A tropical system is heading for the Gulf of Mexico. And it's Friday the 13th. Yep, today is a trifecta of the unwanted.

The bad news — of course I'm starting with it on this day! — is that every year has at least one Friday the 13th. The ominous, for some, day shows up one to three times a year. There were two in 2020.

The good news for 2021 is that today is the only Friday the 13th of the year. The last time that happened was Friday, May 13, 2016.

If you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, here's a tip so you'll know how many of these bad omen imbued Fridays you'll have to face each year.

Note the first day of each month. If it falls on a Sunday, like Aug. 1 this year, there will be a Friday the 13th in the month. The next time this will happen will be next May, when that month's unlucky day to close out the work week will be the lone Friday the 13th in 2022.

I hope this data discussion of this date has taken your mind off of the scary things that could happen today. For more diversions, check out CNN's piece on the cultural origins of this enduring superstitious tradition.

Need more distractions? Then here are some that are almost as frightening — 13 tax scams that shown up (or reappeared) this year.

COVID-19 false promises keep being made: We're entering the 18th month as a country (and world) dealing with the health and financial effects of the coronavirus. As lockdowns and business closures became commonplace, people lost their jobs. To help out, Congress passed a series of COVID relief measures, primarily as tax breaks and/or financial payments distributed by the Internal Revenue Service.

These Economic Impact Payments (EIPs), also referred to as stimulus payments, helped. They also offer a hook for crooks. By phone, email, text, or social media scams, the scammers say they can facilitate the EIP deliveries if you'll just give them your Social Security number or other personal and financial information.

While the IRS has sent out the bulk of the relief payments, don't be surprised to see con artists still trying to cash in on EIP schemes.

Unemployment scams increased: While the EIPs helped, millions who lost their jobs due to the pandemic also applied for unemployment benefits. Criminals quickly took advantage of the jobless application crunch, fraudulently applying for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits using personal information they've stolen.

In some cases, the stolen identity data belonged to people who indeed had lost their jobs. They had to explain to their state benefits offices that the payments they already approved went to crooks.

In other instances, individuals still had jobs and didn't learn that identity thieves had filed for the payments until they received IRS 1099-G forms for the unemployment insurance benefits they never claimed or received.

The 1099-G forms are issued because unemployment is taxable income, although for the 2020 tax year up to $10,200 in UI payments were excluded from tax. Still, the form recipients had to explain (and prove) to the IRS how they were unknowingly victimized.

Advance Child Tax Credit "help" that hurts: The latest piece of economic help for COVID-affected families is early payment of the Child Tax Credit, which was bumped up for the 2021 tax year.

So that taxpayers with qualifying dependent children could get some of the credit sooner, the IRS started distribution early payments, known as Advance Child Tax Credit (AdvCTC) payments, in July. The second AdvCTC is being delivered today, with the other payments going out the middle of each of the final four months of this year.

The IRS has its system in place and online options where credit recipients can make any changes they find necessary. But con artists still are using the AdvCTC as tax identity theft bait. The make unsolicited phone calls, emails, texts or social media contacts offering to help taxpayers get the early payments, get them sooner, or get more.

But all this so-called help actually only helps the crooks get your and your children's Social Security numbers and other personal data, including bank account information, so they can steal your identity and cash.

Teleworkers become tax scam targets: Many companies had hoped to have most of their employees finally back in the office by now. That's not going to happen, at least not soon, due to the Delta variant pandemic resurgence.

Even when we finally get past the pandemic (we will … won't we?!), some businesses have decided to continue to let personnel work from home, at least part of the time.

This is all good and well for companies' bottom lines (reduced office real estate costs) and productive home-based employees (no commuting, fewer child care expenses). It's also an opportunity for tax crooks.

Instead of having to hack secure company computer networks, criminals are focusing on all of us clicking away at computers in our homes. The IRS and Federal Bureau of Investigation have warned of increased activity by cyber criminals to use email auto-forwarding to successfully launch Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks.

By implementing auto-forwarding rules on victims' web-based email clients, the crooks can hide their activities. The web-based clients' forwarding rules often do not sync with the desktop client, making it more difficult for corporate cyber security administrators to see and catch the changes.

Friday the 13th black cat ladder drawingTax scam oldies but baddies still around: The four just-discussed scams have appeared during COVID Times. That's what crooks do. They adapt their nefarious schemes to life's changing circumstances, in this case our pandemic frustrations and fiscal problems.

However, con artists still are using tried, and sadly still too often successful, older schemes that have long been in the tax scam and identity theft playbook.

A variety of email phishing schemes that target individual taxpayers, as well as tax professionals, are still hitting email boxes daily.

Persistent IRS impersonators continue to call, threatening those who answer their phones with jail time or deportation or loss of licenses or Social Security benefits if the victims don't promptly pay the concocted overdue tax bills.

And while older individuals still are targets of many tax scams, crooks are making demographic inroads. It turns out that young people are increasingly falling prey to scammers.

So stay alert and be on guard for these scams not just this Friday the 13th, but on every other day of the year.

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