personal finance

Got a Suspicious Phone Call? Here's How to Avoid Falling for a Tax Scam

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With tax season well underway ahead of the April 18 filing deadline, criminals are on the hunt for unsuspecting victims.

The IRS recently warned Americans to be on the lookout for different kinds of "IRS impersonation scams" with goals ranging from extracting payment to wholesale identity theft. One of the most popular tactics among fraudsters is to call potential victims on the phone and try to trick them into revealing sensitive information.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to work for the IRS, the first course of action is to avoid volunteering any personal information, says Clayton LiaBraaten, senior strategic advisor at Truecaller.

"The vigilant posture is to not answer any personal questions about your identity or your finances or your taxes at all," he tells CNBC Make It. "If you get drawn into that conversation, challenge them to tell you what they know about you."

He suggests "turning the tables" on potential scammers by demanding they provide you with the specifics of your case and details about the money they claim you owe them.

LiaBraaten admits the strategy is "not perfect" because it's possible that the caller might already have information about you. But in the vast majority of cases, the pushback will cause the criminal to hang up and move on to another potential victim.

A common red flag is a call from someone purporting to be from the IRS if you didn't already receive a letter from the agency.

"The IRS does not call people with whom they have not been communicating via mail," LiaBraaten says. "The IRS will still use the U.S. mail to notify someone of monies owed or clarifications that they need in tax filings. They establish the relationship via mail long before they're ever going to call somebody."

Another strategy that consumers can employ is to tell the caller that they would rather not give any sensitive information over the phone and would prefer instead to do the process by mail. For a scammer, this is a dead end.

LiaBraaten says that consumers need to look out for more than just bad actors trying to get money out of them. In some cases, extracting a payment isn't the criminal's main goal.

"It's important to remember that not every scam is direct financial fraud," he says. "They may just be gathering personal information for future identity theft operations."

These criminals want your information because it can allow them to steal your identity and, by extension, your tax refund.

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