When I was reading the alert published yesterday by the IRS on the latest telephone scam, it occurred to me that the extreme tax complexity that has been created over the last several decades is at least partly to blame for the proliferation of these scams. I mean, come on, forty years ago, or even twenty years ago, how many people would have been fooled by a telephone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and demanding immediate payment of the “federal student tax?”
Today, however, people who don’t know much about taxes, but who have a vague awareness that there are taxes connected with education (i.e. tuition tax credits and the like) might be fooled into thinking there is a “federal student tax” when confronted with an aggressive thief claiming that they are calling from the IRS and demanding immediate payment.
The ease with which payments can be delivered over the telephone or by electronic means is also certainly a contributor to the prevalence of payment scams. In the olden days, you had to mail a check (or deliver cash or go to the Western Union office) to make a payment. That meant that after you told the telephone caller that you would send money, you had time to think about it while you were writing the check, and while you were on your way to the post office to mail the check. In that time you had a chance to realize, after the initial fright wore off, that the call didn’t sound right. You might talk to someone or try to get more information yourself before you dropped that check in the mail, and conclude that there is no “federal student tax,” or that even if there is, you wouldn’t be finding out through a strange telephone call that you owe it.
Take the IRS’ advice: “If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money… [d]o not give out any information. Hang up immediately.” Or if you want my advice, replace “suspicious” with “unsolicited” and delete “claiming to be from the IRS,” so the advice is: "If you get an unsolicited phone call from someone asking for money, do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.”
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