How to avoid becoming a victim
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) say that a number of individuals have received unsolicited phone calls from people claiming to be the IRS and demanding immediate payment of taxes via prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The callers are often hostile, insisting that taxes are owed and threatening individuals with arrest, deportation, and suspension of a business license or driver’s license.
The TIGTA has gotten 90,000 complaints about the IRS phone scam. It’s estimated that fraudsters have stolen approximately $5 million from 1,100 victims so far.
The Inspector General, J. Russell George, has called it “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen.”
IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, says, “There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation. Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact the TIGTA or the IRS.”
Ways to tell if you’re being scammed
Fraudulent callers often tell potential victims that tax is owed and must be paid immediately, or that they are entitled to a large tax refund. If they are unsuccessful the first time around, scammers will sometimes call back and attempt a different strategy.
To avoid becoming a victim of these scams, it’s important for taxpayers to know the following:
- If you owe taxes, the IRS will first contact you by mail, not by telephone.
- The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the phone.
- The IRS never insists that you must pay your taxes using a specific payment method.
- The IRS never demands immediate payment over the phone and does not take enforcement action directly after a phone conversation. Taxpayers are usually given prior notice of IRS enforcement action regarding tax liensor tax levies.
The IRS has identified certain characteristics of these scam calls, including the following:
- Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. (They often use common names and surnames to identify themselves.)
- Scammers may be able to recite the last 4 digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
- To make it look like the call is coming from the IRS, scammers may spoof the IRS toll-free number on the caller ID.
- Scammers sometimes send fake IRS emails to victims to support their fraudulent phone calls.
- Victims may hear background noise of other calls being conducted, mimicking a call center.
- Scammers may threaten victims with jail time or driver’s license suspension and then hang up, after which another scammer will call impersonating the local police or DMV, and the caller ID seems to support their claim.
Taxpayers should also be aware that there are other scams (such as lottery sweepstakes and tax debt relief) that falsely claim to be from the IRS.
What to do if you get a suspicious phone call
If you suspect that a phone call might be a scam, you should hang up. Do not give away your personal or financial information over the phone.
The IRS recommends the following actions if you receive a call from someone who claims to be from the IRS:
- If you think or know that you owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and IRS employees can help you resolve a payment issue (if one even exists).
- If you know that you don’t owe taxes, or the caller made any of the threats described above, call the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 to report the incident.
- If you’ve been a target of this phone scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission and use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Make sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Taxpayers are encouraged to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. Remember that the IRS does not use email to initiate contact with taxpayers and request personal or financial information. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords, or confidential access information for credit cards or bank accounts. If you receive a fraudulent email, do not open any attachments or click on any links within the message — instead, you should forward the suspicious email to firstname.lastname@example.org.