The IRS has issued a consumer alert about possible scams taking place after Hurricane Sandy.
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"Following major disasters," the service warned, "it's common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Such fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, email or in-person solicitations."
The IRS noted that scam artists may pretend to represent real or bogus charities to gather money or financial information: "They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds. ... Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims. Such fraudulent sites frequently mimic the sites of, or use names similar to, legitimate charities, or claim to be affiliated with legitimate charities."
The IRS cautioned both victims and would-be contributors to hurricane relief avoid scam artists by following these tips:
• Donate to recognized charities.
• Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or Web sites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS Web site (IRS.gov) has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which facilitates finding legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. Legitimate charities may also be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site.
• Don't give out such personal financial information as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords to anyone who solicits a contribution.
• Don't give or send cash. Contribute by check, credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.
Hurricane victims can call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance number, (866) 562-5227, with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues. Taxpayers suspecting disaster-related frauds can access IRS.gov and search for the keywords "Report Phishing."