CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Your phone rings but you don't recognize the number so it goes to voicemail. The voice on the other end sounds friendly, offering to help you with your taxes.
Sounds safe, right? Wrong. It's probably a new type of scam going around looking to steal your tax refund. The calendar will soon turn to March which means we're at the height of tax season, and there are even more reasons taxpayers should be careful.
By now, everyone's heard a lot about phishing, where scammers try to steal your personal information by getting their victims to respond to an email. "Smishing" is the same idea, except by text message. The latest approach uses voicemails, and it's called "vishing."
Scammers are getting cordial this tax season and will pretend to offer a helping hand by posing as someone from a "tax help center" about back income tax debt.
Don't fall for the softer approach, experts say.
WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Not what we're used to hearing from somebody that's posing as a tax collector," Tom Bartholomy with the Better Business Bureau said. "But you know, they're willing to try just about anything they possibly can."
Bartholomy says scammers tend to take advantage of people's confusion, especially during tax season.
"This may be somebody I talked to. I don't really remember it but she seems nice enough, and so I'll see what this is about," he said.
One thing we do know is scammers are always after the same thing: Your money or personal information.
"What we've seen primarily around tax season is they're after both," Bartholomy said. "When you think of dealing with your tax return, you're dealing with your Social Security number, you're dealing with your banking information. Those two items are the big prize for a scammer. If they can get you to believe that they're with the IRS, and then you're going to turn over your tax return that has your Social Security number on it, that has your banking information on there, that's a big payday for these guys."
If you get a voicemail that sounds like this scam, the BBB says you should delete it. Don't call the number back, either. Bartholomy says everyone should go ahead and warn their friends about this latest tactic and report it on the BBB's Scam Tracker. They're working with the IRS to find out exactly where the scammers are coming from.
Tip to avoid becoming a victim of a scam
Any pitch that ratchets up your emotion will inhibit your rational judgment.
Sense of urgency
You MUST act now, or else.
Request for unorthodox payment
Gift cards, prepaid credit cards, wire transfers, etc.
Explanations that don't ring true
If your new “landlord” can’t show you the inside of the house, that could be because they don’t own it.
You won, now pay up
It’s not a prize if you have to pay for it. Taxes, fees, shipping, whatever.
Too good to be true
That’s because it’s not true. Sorry, your long-lost relative didn’t die, leaving you millions. That car you bought online for a third of its blue book value doesn’t really exist. The son of a billionaire diamond broker didn’t “swipe right” on you and fall instantly in love. That work-at-home job paying you hundreds of dollars an hour for stuffing envelopes isn’t real.