As soon as record heat and wildfires hit the West this summer, new IRS scammers came out of the woodwork. These scammers try to take advantage of generous people like you who want to help victims of fires, heat waves, and hurricanes in other parts of the country. According to the IRS, they do this in different ways.
- Impersonating charities. Take my word for it — the American Red Cross will not email you from the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Just because someone claims to be from a charity doesn’t mean that they really are, or that the charity itself even exists!
If a charity reaches out to you via email or social media message, never donate through the link or web address they provide. Instead, do some research. Go to the real website of the American Red Cross, for example, and donate there just to be safe. The IRS also has a tool that will help you figure out whether a charity is real and eligible for tax-deductible contributions. Check it out at Apps.IRS.gov/app/eos.
- Setting up copycat websites. Sometimes scammers will go deeper than fake emails. They might also make a fake website that looks a lot like the real one. To catch them, look closely at the details. Is the charity’s name missing an apostrophe? Is the web address something other than .com or .org? Can you find the real website with a quick Google search? Check before you donate.
- Pretending to be IRS agents. These scammers pretend they’re helping natural disaster victims file casualty loss claims to get tax refunds. They might reach out to you by phone, over email, or even through social media messages. Don’t fall for any of these tricks! Remember, 99% of the time, the IRS will only contact you by snail mail. If you get a weird phone call and the person on the other end can’t verify they’re an IRS employee, report it at Treasury.gov/tigta/Contact_Report_Scam.shtml.
If someone contacts you, or someone you love, pretending to be the IRS and you’re not sure whether they’re legitimate, you can always ask me. Thanks to my job, I can always tell what’s real from a fake.