The Internal Revenue Service announced its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams with a special emphasis on aggressive and evolving schemes related to coronavirus tax relief, including Economic Impact Payments.
This year, the Dirty Dozen focuses on scams that target taxpayers. The criminals behind these bogus schemes view everyone as potentially easy prey. The IRS urges everyone to be on guard all the time and look out for others in their lives.
“Tax scams tend to rise during tax season or during times of crisis, and scam artists are using pandemic to try stealing money and information from honest taxpayers,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The IRS provides the Dirty Dozen list to help raise awareness about common scams that fraudsters use to target people. We urge people to watch out for these scams. The IRS is doing its part to protect Americans. We will relentlessly pursue criminals trying to steal your money or sensitive personal financial information.”
Taxpayers are encouraged to review the list in a special section on IRS.gov and be on the lookout for these scams throughout the year. Taxpayers should also remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Consumers can help protect themselves by choosing a reputable tax preparer.
The IRS urges taxpayers to refrain from engaging potential scammers online or on the phone. The IRS plans to unveil a similar list of enforcement and compliance priorities this year as well.
“Americans are already experiencing so many challenges; the last thing taxpayers need is to be victimized by one of these scams,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson. “We are hoping that by raising the public’s awareness of these tax scams, fewer people will fall prey.”
An upcoming series will emphasize the illegal schemes and techniques businesses and individuals use to avoid paying their lawful tax liability. Topics will include such scams as abusive micro captives and fraudulent conservation easements.
Here are this year’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ scams:
• Phishing: Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. IRS Criminal Investigation has seen a tremendous increase in phishing schemes utilizing emails, letters, texts, and links. These phishing schemes are using keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “Stimulus” in various ways.
• Fake Charities: Criminals frequently exploit natural disasters such as the current COVID-19 pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal from well-intentioned people trying to help in times of need. Fake charity scams generally rise during times like these.
• Threatening Impersonator Phone Calls: IRS impersonation scams come in many forms. A common one remains bogus threatening phone calls from a criminal claiming to be with the IRS. The scammer attempts to instill fear and urgency in the potential victim. In fact, the IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or surprise him or her with a demand for immediate payment.
• Social Media Scams: Taxpayers need to protect themselves against social media scams, which frequently use events like COVID-19 to try tricking people. Social media enables anyone to share information with anyone else on the Internet. Scammers use that information as ammunition for a wide variety of scams. These include emails where scammers impersonate someone’s family, friends, or co-workers.
• EIP or Refund Theft: The IRS has made great strides against refund fraud and theft in recent years, but they remain an ongoing threat. Criminals this year also turned their attention to stealing Economic Impact Payments as provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
• Senior Fraud: Senior citizens and those who care about them need to be on alert for tax scams targeting older Americans. The IRS recognizes the pervasiveness of fraud targeting older Americans along with the Department of Justice and FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), among others. Seniors are more likely to be targeted and victimized by scammers than other segments of society.
• Scams targeting non-English speakers: IRS impersonators and other scammers also target groups with limited English proficiency. These scams are often threatening in nature. Some scams also target those potentially receiving an Economic Impact Payment and request personal or financial information from the taxpayer. Phone scams pose a major threat to people with limited access to information, including individuals not entirely comfortable with the English language.
• Unscrupulous Return Preparers: Selecting the right return preparer is important. They are entrusted with a taxpayer’s sensitive personal data. Most tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but dishonest preparers pop up every filing season committing fraud, harming innocent taxpayers or talking taxpayers into doing illegal things they regret later.
• Offer in Compromise Mills: Taxpayers need to wary of misleading tax debt resolution companies that can exaggerate chances to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” through an Offer in Compromise (OIC). These offers are available for taxpayers who meet very specific criteria under the law to qualify for reducing their tax bill. But unscrupulous companies oversell the program to unqualified candidates so they can collect a hefty fee from taxpayers already struggling with debt.
• Fake Payments with Repayment Demands: Criminals are always finding new ways to trick taxpayers into believing their scam including putting a bogus refund into the taxpayer’s actual bank account. The IRS will never demand payment by a specific method.
• Payroll and HR Scams: Tax professionals, employers, and taxpayers need to be on guard against phishing designed to steal Form W-2s and other tax information. These are Business Email Compromise (BEC) or Business Email Spoofing (BES). This is particularly true with many businesses closed and their employees working from home due to COVID-19.
• Ransomware: This is a growing cybercrime. Ransomware is malware targeting human and technical weaknesses to infect a potential victim’s computer, network or server. Malware is a form of invasive software that is often frequently inadvertently downloaded by the user. Once downloaded, it tracks keystrokes and other computer activity. Once infected, ransomware looks for and locks critical or sensitive data with its own encryption. In some cases, entire computer networks can be adversely impacted.
Visit www.IRS.gov/newsroom for additional information on these scams and the latest news releases from IRS.
Valley Health, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announce new network agreement; ensures members continued in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services
After working for several months on a new contract, Valley Health and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield today announced a new agreement that will keep Valley Health physicians and hospitals in Anthem’s provider networks. Details of the new agreement were not disclosed.
“We are pleased to announce a new long-term agreement with Anthem that ensures in-network access to the physicians and caregivers our patients know and trust,” said Valley Health President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Nantz. “We recognize negotiations have been stressful for our patients and are pleased to bring this matter to a close.”
Anthem is the largest health insurer in Virginia and it was essential that Valley Health reach an agreement to serve thousands of community members who rely on Anthem or other Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliates for their health insurance.
“We appreciate Anthem’s trust in Valley Health as their partner and their willingness to make the investment in high-quality healthcare for their members,” Nantz said.
The new agreement provides Anthem customers uninterrupted, in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services through 2023.
“Prioritizing the health of our communities is more important than ever, which is why we are pleased to have reached this agreement, which protects affordability for consumers and ensures our members have access to quality care at Valley Health,” said Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield President Jeff Ricketts. “We value this continued partnership with Valley as we work together to tackle the current pandemic and improve lives and communities here in Virginia.”
Valley Health encourages patients with any additional questions to call 1-866-414-4576. Anthem members can call Member Services using the phone number on the back of their member I.D. card.
American Cancer Society asks for support for #GivingTuesday and beyond
In the midst of a devastating pandemic, Americans are facing unprecedented challenges. This is especially true for the 1.8 million Americans diagnosed with cancer during 2020. In addition to being especially vulnerable to coronavirus, more than one of every four cancer patients and survivors had delays in care due to COVID-19, which has upended lives and uniquely challenged cancer patients, survivors and their families. Patients have had to go through treatment alone and the need to quarantine has created isolation. To fill this void, the American Cancer Society added face-to-face video chats to its free, 24-hour cancer hotline that provides cancer support and resources at 1-800-227-2345.
COVID-19 has placed the American Cancer Society (ACS) in crisis for the first time in the Society’s 107-year history, creating a $200 million shortfall in fundraising, reducing cancer research funding by 50% this year, and challenging the Society’s ability to provide cancer patients and their caregivers support during an unprecedented time.
Nancy Marx, an American Cancer Society volunteer, has been the primary caregiver to her best friend Pat Burger, who was treated for breast cancer during COVID-19. “No one could go in with my friend to support her during her treatment. Her sister, her husband and I had to quarantine so we could safely take care of her. Other family couldn’t come visit. When she finished radiation treatment and rang the bell at the cancer center, no family or friends were with her. All her conferences with doctors and the cancer team were virtual. I was so upset for her.”
Caregivers, not only cancer patients, need support during the stress of a cancer journey. Nancy, a long-time Relay For Life participant, called the American Cancer Society’s 800 number cancer hotline for support. “The 800 number is there for everything you want to know about cancer. I didn’t understand certain medical terms and new medicines. The Society’s trained cancer specialists are there to talk and help. I felt much better after my call,” said Nancy.
On #GivingTuesday and throughout the month of December, the Society is asking for the public’s support. ACS is the largest non-profit funder of cancer research outside the federal government and provides vital services addressing health disparities and round-the-clock patient support despite the times. Due to the pandemic’s crippling impact, cancer patients, caregivers and survivors are turning to the American Cancer Society for information and resources to navigate COVID-19.
To donate to the American Cancer Society on #GivingTuesday or throughout the month of December, go to: cancer.org or go to Warren County/Front Royal Relay For Life at www.relayforlife.org/warrenva and donate locally to the American Cancer Society.
Edward Jones financial advisor Bret Hrbek receives Spirit of Caring Award
Bret Hrbek of the financial services firm Edward Jones in Front Royal recently received the firm’s exclusive Spirit of Caring Award designed to recognize those financial advisors who exemplify the values, culture and spirit of giving back.
Hrbek is a leader in the firm and an example of what a dedicated Edward Jones financial advisor can achieve. He has demonstrated unyielding dedication to giving back to his clients, community, other financial advisors, branch teams and their regional network.
Hrbek said he is honored to receive the award.
“Edward Jones is a partnership. That structure is not just financial, it’s a philosophy,” Hrbek said. “We work together, help each other and all share in the rewards of working with long-term individual investors. That brings out the best in everyone.”
Hrbek was one of only 295 of the firm’s more than 19,000 financial advisors to receive the award.
Bret Hrbek’s office is located at 986 John Marshall Highway, Front Royal, Virginia.
Edward Jones, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in St. Louis, provides financial services in the U.S. and, through its affiliate, in Canada. Every aspect of the firm’s business, from the investments offered to the location of branch offices, caters to individual investors. The firm’s 19,000-plus financial advisors serve more than 7 million clients with a total of $1.2 trillion in client assets under care. Visit edwardjones.com or the recruiting website at careers.edwardjones.com. Member SIPC.
Shopping Small promotion announces first winners
Shopping Small does have its rewards in Front Royal.
Sue Laurence of Key Move Properties announced the winners of the first drawing this week. Weekly winners will receive gift bags of local business donated goods including gift cards. The value of gift bags may vary.
The BIG prize goes to Bridget Barker – A gift certificate/vouchers from the following merchants – C&C Frozen Treats, Try Thai, White Picket Fence, Ole Timers Antiques, and Key Move Properties.
Joe Nelson – A gift certificate from Royal Bowling Center
Jen Avery – A gift certificate from Royal Bowling Center
Nancy Nelson – A gift certificate from Jennerations Hair Studio
Tina Paulisch – A gift certificate from The Studio
Karen Moxie – A gift certificate from Sensational Hair Cutters
VAEA recognizes Andrea Stuart as a 2020 VAEA Distinguished Fellow
Andrea Stuart, high school art educator for Warren County Public Schools in Front Royal, Virginia, has been inducted into the VAEA Distinguished Fellows, an honored group of members who have performed extraordinary service. A virtual ceremony took place during the VAEA Professional Development Conference on November 14, 2020.
Ms. Stuart has taught at Warren County High School in the Visual Arts Department since 1994 and is currently teaching photography and graphic arts. Through Advanced Placement art courses and an independent study program, she mentors students who express an interest in pursuing careers in photography or graphic design. As Art Department Chair, she has steered the art department to participate in VAEA Youth Art Month programs and local, regional, and state exhibitions. She was recognized as the VAEA Blue Ridge Region Art Teacher of the Year in 2003 and VAEA Secondary Art Educator of the Year in 2013. Ms. Stuart’s role as an adjunct professor at Lord Fairfax Community College helped lead to dual enrollment programs which enabled high school art students to earn college credit.
Ms. Stuart has spent her lengthy career enhancing the quality of Virginia art education and supporting her colleagues at the regional and state levels. A member of the VAEA Blue Ridge Region Board since 1996, Ms. Stuart has facilitated many professional development activities for the membership, participated as local chair/co-chair for state conferences, and has been a frequent presenter. She is also an avid learner, participating often in workshops, conferences, and educational travel to enhance her own knowledge and effectiveness. She is a prolific artist, exhibits regularly, and owns her own photography business. According to her nominator, Ms. Stuart is “a consummate professional, creative artist, and compassionate teacher” and the VAEA is proud to recognize her accomplishments and contributions.
Community-driven report reflects recommendations of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group
Governor Ralph Northam has released the Administration’s report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The report is the final product of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, and it results from a diverse, stakeholder-driven process that involved community leaders, healthcare professionals, policy experts, and government officials. This month-long effort was a key part of marijuana decriminalization legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and follows Governor Northam’s recent announcement that he intends to advance marijuana legalization in Virginia.
“We will advance new laws to make sure that our Commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has studied the experience of other states and this report lays out a path forward that leads with social equity, public health, and public safety.”
The comprehensive report includes nearly 400 pages of meeting minutes and outlines various aspects of marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth, including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing and regulation, and consumer safety. It also provides additional details on the five key principles that Governor Northam wants to see in any final legalization bill:
- Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition historically has been based on discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
- Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
- Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation that includes protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
- Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
- Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.
The Virginia Marijuana Work Group consulted with dozens of subject-matter experts in compiling its recommendations, including organizations focused on ensuring social and racial equity, such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association, NoLef Turns, and Decriminalize Virginia. Health experts, including public health policy consultants and practicing physicians, were extensively involved, and the team worked closely with government officials from states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Washington, Massachusetts, and Illinois.
The Work Group was led by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security. The group held a total of 15 public meetings between July and October 2020.