IRS warns of possible Sandy-related scams

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COLUMBUS, Ohio " The Internal Revenue Service has issued an alert to consumers in Northeast Ohio and nationwide about possible scams taking place in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

"Some scam artists make their living by playing upon other people's good, trusting and generous natures," said Jennifer Jenkins, IRS spokesperson for Ohio. "It's not uncommon for scammers to take advantage of major disasters by impersonating charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned people."

The IRS cautions both hurricane victims and people wishing to make disaster-related charitable donations to avoid scam artists by following these tips:

To help disaster victims, donate to recognized charities.

Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be tax-deductible. Legitimate charities may also be found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Web site at fema.gov.

Don't give out personal financial information " such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords " to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.

Don't give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

If you are a hurricane victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues, call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number, 1-866-562-5227.

Scammers' fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, email or even in-person solicitations. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone to solicit 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. They may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims' identities or financial resources.

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, in order to persuade members of the public to send money or provide personal financial information that can be used to steal identities or financial resources. Additionally, scammers often send e-mail that steers the recipient to bogus websites that sound as though they are affiliated with legitimate charitable causes.

"Your donation won't be doing the intended recipients any good if it falls into the wrong hands," said Jenkins. "When donating to help disaster victims, take a few extra moments to do a little research first. Your due diligence will help others in need, and it could save you from becoming the victim of identity theft."

Taxpayers suspecting disaster-related frauds should IRS.gov and search for the keywords "Report Phishing."

More information about tax scams and schemes may be found at IRS.gov using the keywords "scams and schemes."

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