When Sandy Safeer received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Federal Bureau of Taxation, she wasn’t sure what to believe. She says, “They said I owed taxes from 2008 and threatened to throw me in jail for six months with no legal recourse.” Sandy is disabled and doesn’t usually need to file taxes, but she was concerned the threats might somehow be legitimate. “It was very scary and upsetting,” she says. Feeling unsafe and afraid, Sandy says she grabbed a bag full of personal belongings, jumped in her car, and drove to a friend’s house.
Her friend, a former policeman, advised Sandy to try and look up her past tax records. At this point, Sandy knew she needed legal help, so she made the call to Legal Aid and staff attorney Krzysztof Wendland urged her to come to the Albany office. “I was meeting with Krzys not even an hour later,” Sandy says. Together, Krzys and Sandy called the phone number back and when they inquired about the situation, the person on the other line hung up. At this point, Krzys had a hunch that this was a scam, but he wanted to confirm that his client was in the clear. Through power of attorney, Krzys was able to verify that there were no outstanding balances. Sandy says, “Krzys checked the records for the IRS, NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, and the PA Department of Revenue and saw that I didn’t owe any money.” Sandy’s relief was immediate. Reassured that she didn’t owe any back taxes, Sandy was able to return to her home without fear of being arrested. She says, “Once I sat down with Krzys, I knew everything was going to be okay. Legal Aid is just an amazing resource.”
Krzys says, “We see quite a few of these cases, it’s in the news all the time and it’s very scary for the clients.” And unfortunately, since many of the calls are untraceable, it can be tough to track down and stop the con artists. “This scam affects everyone – they’re literally calling everyone in the phone book,” Krzys explains. To get to the bottom of things, Krzys says individuals need to confirm whether there is any income tax issue that prompted the call. He says, “Sometimes people don’t file their tax returns and a scammer will file a return on their behalf [in order to claim a refund].” He continues, “If the IRS sees this, they may have questions or they may try to make an assessment on the return. This could lead to social security or disability check garnishment or a call from a revenue officer.”
To protect themselves, Krzys says that individuals should always file a return, even if their income level doesn’t make it mandatory. He explains, “I always tell people to file a return because this prevents a scammer from using your social security number and it keeps your address record up to date.” However, Krzys acknowledges that for many people, dealing with the IRS can be intimidating, so he urges anyone with questions or concerns to contact Legal Aid.