ATLANTA - Both Secretary of State Karen Handel and the Internal Revenue Service have issued warnings of seven scams circulating in Georgia.
Ruth Vincent, owner of the Vincent Group in Clarkston, might have been $125 poorer if she had answered an official-looking solicitation from Georgia Corporate Compliance.
GCC's form, similar in appearance to those sent by the Secretary of State's office and stamped with a formal-looking seal, offers to complete a business's corporate meeting minutes for a $125 fee. Businesses could lose their limited liability status if they fail to comply with certain requirements, the form states.
The Secretary of State's office requires businesses to file an annual renewal form, found on its Web site at www.sos.state.ga.us. Businesses are not required to file corporate meeting minutes. Nothing has to be filed through GCC or any other company, said Matt Carrothers, spokesman for Handel's office.
"Many customers have been understandably confused by the official-looking documents," Carrothers said.
Vincent, an educational finance consultant, knew better.
"There used to be a lot of scams in the guaranteed student loan business," she said. "I called the phone number and ascertained that they were not a government agency. I sent the one I got in July to the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs and the one I got in November to the Secretary of State's Office."
The company's return address leads to a mailbox in a UPS Store on Courtland Street in Atlanta. The store manager would not reveal to whom the box is rented.
A call to GCC's toll-free number was answered by a woman claiming to be located in Oregon.
"I don't actually work for the company itself," said the woman, who refused to give her name. "I work for a company that employs me as its receptionist."
She refused to divulge the name of her employer and how much money GCC had collected to date from Georgia businesses.
"I've given you too much information already," she said.
No one from GCC answered requests for an interview.
Handel's office has been tracking this potential scam for almost a year, Carrothers said.
In legalistic language, a paragraph-long disclaimer at the bottom of the form explains that the service has not been endorsed by any government agency. Nevertheless, the Georgia Secretary of State collected a $500 statutory civil penalty from GCC in 2007 for doing business without a certificate of authority.
Anyone receiving correspondence from GCC is asked to call 404-656-2817.
IRS warns of Social Security scam
A scam moving south from Tennessee convinces taxpayers they are due a refund of the Social Security taxes they paid.
Not true, said Mark Green, spokesman for the IRS. This hoax fleeces victims for an up-front fee to prepare a false tax refund claim and a percentage of the refund amount.
"They make the refund enormous, so the fee is large," Green said. "The law does not allow a refund of Social Security taxes, so people could be subject to a penalty for filing a false tax return."
The IRS became aware of the scam when several people contacted the Atlanta office requesting copies of their Social Security income statements for the purpose of preparing a refund claim.
"If anyone received a refund from a false claim, they have to return the funds," Green said. "We will work with anybody who has fallen into a trap."
Telephone and e-mail scams involve proposed advance payment checks
The IRS cautioned taxpayers to be alert for scams involving proposed advance payment checks. Taxpayers are contacted through e-mail or by telephone and tricked into revealing personal and financial information like Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers. That information can be used to commit identity theft, empty the victim's financial accounts and run up charges on credit cards.
"Scammers want the quick and easy route," Green said. "Doing it electronically allows them to hide behind servers. Many taxpayers are not tax savvy, so when they hear they might be audited, they fall for it."
The IRS has issued warnings about the following scams:
· Rebate phone call - the caller tells the prospective victim he is eligible for a sizable rebate in return for filing his taxes early, then asks for the person's bank account information for direct deposit of the rebate.
"No legislation has yet been enacted that allows the IRS to provide advance payments," Green said.
· Refund e-mail - An e-mail tells the recipient he is eligible for a specific amount of tax refund, which must be filed on a certain claim form. A link to the form is provided.
"The IRS does not send unsolicited e-mail about tax account matters," Green said. "There is no separate (tax) application form."
· Audit e-mail - The prospective victim is told in an e-mail that his tax return will be audited.
· Changes to tax law e-mail - Business people are instructed to download tax law change by clicking on a series of links. The IRS believes that clicking on those links downloads malware that can give someone else remote access to the business person's computer.
· Paper check phone call - The caller claims to be an IRS employee following up on a check sent to the individual. Because the check has not been cashed, the IRS wants to verify the individual's bank account number.
"The IRS does not ask for bank account information," Green said.
What to do
Anyone receiving a questionable e-mail should forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at www.irs.gov.
"Call us if something does not feel right," Green said. "Choose your tax preparer wisely. I talked to a girl the other day who said the man on the other end of the line sounded so nice and professional and she finally gave him her checking and savings account numbers. She had to put a freeze on her accounts."