Consumer Information - Tax Deadlines, Price Gouging, and Beware of Scammers
The IRS has established a special section on its website focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by the coronavirus. This page will be updated as new information is available. Below are some important resources:
- The IRS recently went live with a website that provides tips for taxpayers and tax professional. You can find that site here.
- The Social Security Administration also recently published a website providing Americans with information related to their services during the coronavirus pandemic. You can find that site here.
- The IRS also recently pushed FAQs regarding this year’s tax filing deadline extension. You can find that site here.
- As you likely know, all SSA field offices are currently closed and as a result Americans should expect service delays. You can still reach the SSA by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Click here to identify your local field office.
Taxpayer Assistance Center
As the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis continues to develop, the IRS has taken multiple steps to protect employees, American taxpayers, and communities and partners. The IRS has temporarily closed all Taxpayer Assistance Centers and discontinued face-to-face service throughout the country until further notice. The IRS is continuing to process tax returns, issue refunds and help taxpayers to the greatest extent possible.
Taxpayers are highly encouraged to go to IRS.gov and to the newly created IRS.gov/coronavirus webpage where you can find the latest updates about IRS services, explore free options to file or request an extension to file at www.IRS.gov/freefile, find forms, tax help, refund status, and payment options.
On Friday, March 13th,, Attorney General Ken Paxton warned that state law prohibits price gouging in the wake of a declared disaster. Governor Greg Abbott has in fact declared the coronavirus outbreak a statewide disaster, which makes penalties for price gouging even stricter under law. Below is Attorney General Paxton's statement on price gouging.
“Any person or business selling goods must be aware that they are prohibited by law from engaging in price gouging if they unreasonably raise the cost of necessary supplies at any point during a declared disaster,” said Attorney General Paxton.“My office will work aggressively to prevent disaster scams and stands ready to prosecute any price-gouger who takes advantage of those taking precautions and looking for safety and supplies.”
Currently, the disaster declaration prompted by several discovered cases of Coronavirus in Texas is effective across the entire state. Price gouging is illegal, and a disaster declaration triggers tough penalties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Price-gougers may be required to reimburse consumers and may be held liable for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation with an additional penalty of up to $250,000 if the affected consumers are elderly.
If you believe that you have encountered price gouging, call the Office of the Attorney General at the toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online.
Beware of Scammers (Information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, scammers are taking advantage of the situation to con people into giving up their money. The reason for their fraug may be new, but the tactics are certainly familiar. Now more than ever, it can be even harder to prevent the scamming of people 65 and older because they are not interacting as much with friends, neighbors, and senior service provices in an effort to avoid getting this virus.
Those who are ill or don’t feel comfortable potentially exposing themselves may need someone to help with errands. Be cautious when accepting offers of help and use trusted delivery services for supplies and food. During this time of uncertainty, knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them. The Connsumer Financial Protection Bureau's Money Smart for Older Adults resource guide and its scam prevention handouts and activities offer information regarding the signs for a variety of scams. Below are some coronavirus-specific scams to stay vigilant about as we overcome this pandemic together.
Scams offering COVID-19 vaccine, cure, air filters, testing
The Federal Trade Commission has warned about an increasing number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. People are incredibly scared of this outbreak, and there are peopl ready to take advange of people's fear. There is currently no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure. In Harris County, if you want to get tested, please use the online self-assessment tool to determine if you need to get tested. Please not that these tests are not deliverable to your home. If you receive a call, email, text message, or letter claiming it can sell you any of these medical items-it’s a scam.
Fake coronavirus-related charity scams
A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place. And really important, if you get a call regading a donation pledge that you do not recall making, then be wary of a possible scam.
“Person in need” scams
Scammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers will often beg you to keep this a secret and to act quickly before asking any questions. Do not send any money unless you are certain that the person contacting you is in fact a family member or a stranger trying to take advantage of your during this pandemic. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out.
Scams targeting your Social Security benefits
While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov.