IRS Warns of Latest Scam Variation Involving Bogus “Federal Student Tax”

Student Tax Scam

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued a warning to taxpayers about bogus phone calls from IRS impersonators demanding payment for a non-existent tax, the “Federal Student Tax.”

Even though the tax deadline has come and gone, scammers continue to use varied strategies to trick people, in this case students. In this newest twist, they try to convince people to wire money immediately to the scammer. If the victim does not fall quickly enough for this fake “federal student tax”, the scammer threatens to report the student to the police.

“These scams and schemes continue to evolve nationwide, and now they’re trying to trick students,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain vigilant and not fall prey to these aggressive calls demanding immediate payment of a tax supposedly owed.”

Scam artists frequently masquerade as being from the IRS, a tax company and sometimes even a state revenue department. Many scammers use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a tax bill. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:

  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes gift card.
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals (IR-2016-34)
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone (IR-2016-40)
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry (IR-2016-28)

The IRS urges taxpayers to stay vigilant against these calls and to know the telltale signs of a scam demanding payment.

The IRS Will Never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission by visiting FTC.gov and clicking on “File a Consumer Complaint.” Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.

IR-2016-81, May 27, 2016

Wednesday Wisdoms: How to Make Your Organization Better at Decisions

business development

Why is it so easy to criticize the decisions of others, but so difficult to make the tough calls ourselves? What is it that makes high-stakes decisions so difficult? I used to think it was because it was hard to decide the right solution. But as I’ve coached executives struggling with such decisions, I’ve noticed that often it’s fairly clear for them which decision to take. What makes it difficult is accepting the fear of making a bad decision.

Research shows that we feel loss far more acutely than we feel gain. In fact, most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. Applying “Loss Aversion” to decisions explains why the pain of making a bad decision is far more powerful than the joy of making a good one. This leads to a real fear of making a bad decision, which in turn invites some suboptimal behaviors including:

  • Denial and procrastination (e.g., I keep investing in a poor performer rather than admit it was a mistake to put him in that role and terminate)
  • Risk aversion (e.g., I make the safe decision even when my heart is with the bold decision)
  • Diluting the decision (e.g., I cut two product lines when the analysis shows cutting 5 is required)
  • Requiring consensus (e.g., unless all 8 of us can agree on a change, we won’t do anything different)
  • Passing the buck (e.g., I don’t want to face the consequences of a bad decision, so I’ll kick this around the organization or up the hierarchy and make someone else decide)

This is a problem. When people procrastinate, avoid risk, dilute, or pass decisions rights, the organization suffers. Innovation and organizational learning are fostered when employees who are closest to the action make decisions efficiently. When you don’t have this, you invite the arm-chair quarterbacks sitting around complaining that the organization doesn’t make tough decisions. So how can we do this?

We can accomplish better, more efficient decisions when we make it safer for people to make bad decisions. Lower the stakes of Loss Aversion so that people are willing to take risks and act decisively. How? It starts by checking what you celebrate.

If you only acknowledge those decisions that turned out positively (or worse, if you negatively acknowledge those that turned out poorly) you’re fanning the flames of Loss Aversion. On the flipside, if you focus your public acknowledgement on learning opportunities, you might actually dilute the fear of making a bad decision.

Here’s how it might look in practice:

  • Both Jane and Jim decide to invest in a technology that they believe will have a 5% positive ROI on their business.
  • Jane’s decision makes her some money – her investment yielded at 10% ROI!
  • Jim’s decision didn’t – his investment yielded a 0% ROI.
  • At the next meeting, the Leader celebrates both Jane and Jim for making an investment decision based on sound, albeit imperfect, logic and information. The Leader gives equal weight to exploring what Jane learned that would lead her to more accurately predict her ROI in the future, as well as what Jim learned that would help him improve forecasting next time as well.
  • After all, they were both off by ~5%, suggesting that the next forecast has potential room for improvement in this process.

In that sort of environment, Jim becomes much less concerned about making a good decision with a negative outcome, which makes him more inclined to make the decision efficiently, accepting his decision rights, and make the bold choice he believes is the right one for the organization. But this requires his organization to embrace a learning mindset and accept the tradeoff of imperfect decisions today for better decisions tomorrow.

Is your organization willing to accept that tradeoff?

Olds, Ben. “How to Make Your Organization Better at Decisions – Fistful of Talent.” Fistful of Talent RSS. N.p., 18 July 2016. Web. 20 July 2016.

IRS Says be Alert for Tax Scams

laptop on a beach

Tax scammers work year-round; they don’t take the summer off. The IRS urges you to stay vigilant against calls from scammers impersonating the IRS. Here are several tips from the IRS to help you avoid being a victim:

  • Scams use scare tactics. These aggressive and sophisticated scammers try to scare people into making an immediate payment. They make threats, often threaten arrest or deportation, or they say they’ll take away your driver’s or professional license if you don’t pay. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests, sometimes through “robo-calls.” Emails will often contain a fake IRS document with a phone number or an email address for you to reply.
  • Scams spoof caller ID. Scammers often alter caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legit. They may use online resources to get your name, address and other details about your life to make the call sound official.
  • Scams use phishing email and regular mail. Scammers copy official IRS letterhead to use in email or regular mail they send to victims. In another new variation, schemers provide an actual IRS address where they tell the victim to mail a receipt for the payment they make. This makes the scheme look official.
  • Scams cost victims over $38 million. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, has received reports of more than one million contacts since October 2013. TIGTA is also aware of more than 6,700 victims who have collectively reported over $38 million in financial losses as a result of tax scams.

The real IRS will not:

  • The IRS will not call you about your tax bill without first sending you a bill in the mail.
  • Demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount that you owe.
  • Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card or any specific type of tender.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.
  • Threaten you with a lawsuit.

If you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not provide any information to the caller. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page to report the incident.
  • You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe taxes call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you if you do owe taxes.

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2016-01, July 1, 2016

What You Need to Know if You Get a Letter in the Mail from the IRS

mailbox - taxes

Each year, the IRS mails millions of notices and letters to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. If you receive correspondence from us:

  1. Don’t panic. You can usually deal with a notice simply by responding to it.
  2. Most IRS notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts. Each notice has specific instructions, so read your notice carefully because it will tell you what you need to do.
  3. Your notice will likely be about changes to your account, taxes you owe or a payment request. However, your notice may ask you for more information about a specific issue.
  4. If your notice says that the IRS changed or corrected your tax return, review the information and compare it with your original return.
  5. If you agree with the notice, you usually don’t need to reply unless it gives you other instructions or you need to make a payment.
  6. If you don’t agree with the notice, you need to respond. Write a letter that explains why you disagree, and include information and documents you want the IRS to consider. Mail your response with the contact stub at the bottom of the notice to the address on the contact stub. Allow at least 30 days for a response.
  7. For most notices, you won’t need to call or visit a walk-in center. If you have questions, call the phone number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice. Be sure to have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call.
  8. Always keep copies of any notices you receive with your tax records.
  9. Be alert for tax scams. The IRS sends letters and notices by mail. We don’t contact people by email or social media to ask for personal or financial information. If you owe tax, you have several payment options. The IRS won’t demand that you pay a certain way, such as prepaid debit or credit card.
  10. For more on this topic, visit IRS.gov. Click on the link ‘Responding to a Notice’ at the bottom center of the home page. Also, see Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process. You can get it on IRS.gov/forms at any time.

IRS Tax Tip 2016-65, April 19, 2016

Five Steps to a Better Memory

Guy Thinking

You remember saving the file. You can even remember the name of the file. But where you saved it? It eludes you, taunting you, just out of reach.

Has this ever happened to you? Do you accept it as part of growing older? New research shows that having that outlook on it can actually make things worse. In recent a recent study performed by the University of Florida, when older adults were told they couldn’t control their memory, they lost confidence and made little effort to remember a series of names. On the other hand, older adults who had been told they could improve their memory tried much better.

Memory Quote

It’s true that aging plays a role in why it becomes harder to remember things, but by focusing on your potential and continually challenging your mind, you can boost your memory power.

Here are 5 strategies to get you started:

1. Take on new challenges

Studies show that when researchers put adult mice and rats in a more stimulating environment, their brain structure changes in ways that enhance cell communication. That improves the animals’ ability to learn and recall new behaviors.

These studies suggest that similar stimulation also may help humans, says Andrew Monjan, Ph.D., chief of the neurobiology and neuropsychology at the National Institute on Aging. “If you maintain an intellectual challenge, it may help maintain your cognitive function.

“If you are skilled at crossword puzzles, doing more crossword puzzles would not be an intellectual challenge,” says Dr. Monjan, “whereas learning a new language, learning to use computers or reading something new that is stimulating would be.”

2. Control stress

Studies show that anxiety hampers your memory. “All the research we know of shows that it isn’t so much whether or not you’re exposed to stress, it’s how you respond to it that seems to make a difference in the way stress hormones are released,” says Marilyn S. Albert, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

Rather than giving up when faced with difficulties, she says, it’s best to take the initiative so you feel you’re making a difference. If you’re troubled by financial problems, for example, develop a detailed plan to reduce your expenses and debt.

“If you feel out of control, you have higher levels of stress hormones, or glucocorticoids,” Dr. Albert explains. “If you give large amounts of glucocorticoids to animals for long periods of time, you actually damage brain cells. So our theory is that ultimately attitude translates into some hormonal difference that influences the brain.”

Stressful experiences, such as grief or moving, also may limit your ability to store and recall information.

3. Make the effort

“Whenever you know you have to remember something, plan a way to study it and plan a method for recalling it,” Dr. West suggests. For example, if you want to tell your daughter about an article you read, you may post it on your refrigerator and read it when she calls. But that’s too easy, Dr. West says. 4

Instead, post that clipping just as a reminder: Its presence will jog your memory when she calls, but you’ll try to recall and relate the main points.

4. Use memory tricks

These techniques can help you recall things:

  • Visualization. “If you want to remember a person’s name, you imagine the face with the name written across it,” Dr. West suggests. Or, imagine the face with something connected to the name. “So if the name is Gordon, you remember a garden on his face.”
  • Association. Connect things you’re learning with something you already know. “If you meet someone whose name is similar to a person you’ve already met, you try to connect it that way,” Dr. West recommends. “If you meet someone who has an interesting job, associate the name with the job.”
  • Organization. By keeping your important items — keys, glasses and wallet — in one place, you always know where to find them. When writing your grocery list, group items by category. Even if you forget to take the list with you, you’re more likely to remember its contents, says Dr. West.

5. Stay fit

Cardiovascular health is important to your memory because it allows the heart to effectively pump blood with nutrients and oxygen into the brain. Congestive heart failure and long-term untreated high blood pressure have been shown to hurt memory. To fuel your body and brain, eat healthy foods.

While you’re trying these strategies, focus on your capabilities and don’t get discouraged. “Plan ahead. Plan for memory. Study things you want to remember and really go after it in a way that you wouldn’t if you weren’t thinking about your potential,” says Dr. West.

“Five Steps to a Better Memory.” EAP Newsletter (2016): 2–5. Print.

Wednesday Wisdoms: Making Space for Awareness

Side view of woman sitting in lotus position on lakeshore with focus on stack of stones

Do you spend most of your time reacting to people or circumstances rather than thoughtfully responding? Do you resolve to make changes in your life but struggle to implement them? Do you find you’re so overwhelmed that you often push through a day disregarding hunger pangs or exhaustion?

You can’t change what you don’t notice. Being conscious of both your physical and emotional energy will allow you to spend more of your time in the Performance Zone where you’re feeling and working at your best.

With the overload of information and requests available to us digitally, it’s easy to stay stuck in a cycle of reaction and distraction without addressing your real priorities. Make space in your day for awareness and reflection. When you’re fully present, you’re more conscious of what you’re feeling, more intentional about your behaviors, and more attentive to your impact on others.

Top Tips:

  1. Practice Mindfulness.  Check in with yourself and focus on your breathing once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Even a few minutes of sitting quietly and following the breath goes a long way. Try breathing in to a count of three and out to a count of six – effectively extending the out breath and deepening the experience of relaxation. Counting is also an effective object of attention, and therefore enhances concentration.
  2. Do the Right Thing. When you find yourself in a challenging situation, ask yourself the question, “What is the right thing to do here?” If we take the time to stop and think about it, most of us instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. Don’t let a high-pressure situation cause you to react quickly rather than respond wisely.
  3. Do the Most Important Thing First. Most of us have the highest energy and the fewest distractions at the beginning of the day. Decide the night before on the most important task for the following day. Try to do it first thing, for 60-90 minutes, without interruption. You’ll be addressing the tasks that truly matter to you rather than just reacting to external demands.
The Energy Project (2016, June 27). Making Space for Awareness [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://info.theenergyproject.com/webmail/14162/581241818/3ae06f9ed92d78ecb0722c23b85c1773

Sign Up for IRS Summertime Tax Tips

Tax Help Image

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today encouraged taxpayers interested in receiving helpful consumer tips this summer to get a jump-start on this year’s taxes by subscribing to the IRS Tax Tips email service.

Beginning July 1, the IRS will begin offering its Summertime Tax Tip series, which includes useful information in English and Spanish. Tax Tip subscribers will receive a new Tip via email three times a week during July and August. They will also get a Tax Tip each weekday during the tax filing season. The IRS also issues Special Edition Tax Tips on important tax topics throughout the year.

IRS Tax Tips are plain language messages that are easy to understand and cover a wide range of topics. They often include links to helpful IRS.gov references, IRS YouTube videos and podcasts.

Summertime Tax Tip topics include:

  • Phone scams
  • What to do if you receive an IRS notice
  • Check your withholding
  • Back-to-school – Education credit reminders
  • Identity theft
  • Moving expenses

Taxpayers can sign up to receive IRS Tax Tips automatically through a free service on www.irs.gov. From the Subscriptions link on the top right of the IRS website, choose “IRS Tax Tips” on the drop-down menu, and then click on “Subscribe.” Click on “more,” on the drop-down menu, to subscribe to the IRS Tax Tips in Spanish.

The IRS also has a number of other e-subscriptions to which taxpayers, tax professionals and others may subscribe to receive tax information via email from the IRS during the tax-filing season and the rest of the year.

IR-2016-95, June 30, 2016

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