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IRS Warns Against Phone Scams

March 11, 2019, 12:02 PM HST · Updated March 11, 12:02 PM
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As the April tax filing deadline approaches, the Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers to stay alert to tax time phone scams. According to the IRS, these scams involve aggressive criminals posing as IRS agents aiming to steal money or personal information.

Phone scams or “vishing” (voice phishing) has cost thousands of people millions of dollars in recent years, according to the IRS. The IRS placed phone scams on their “Dirty Dozen” list, an annual record of some of the schemes that threaten taxpayers both during filing season and throughout the year.

The IRS is highlighting each of these scams on consecutive days to raise awareness among taxpayers. The IRS is also urging taxpayers to protect themselves against phone scams and identity theft by reviewing safety tips from the Security Summit, a collaborative effort between the IRS, states, and the private-sector tax community.

The IRS generally sees an upswing in phone call scams early in the filing season. These calls often threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of a victim if they do not pay a bogus tax bill by sending cash through a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. These calls often take the form of a “robo-call,” a text-to-speech recorded voicemail with instructions to call back a specific telephone number.

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In some cases, a real person may be making the phone call. Criminals posing as IRS officials make unsolicited calls and leave voicemails with urgent callback requests. These con artists may have some of the taxpayer’s information, including their address, the last four digits of their Social Security number, or other personal details.

Many phone scammers threaten victims to intimidate them into paying. The phone scammers may alter or “spoof” their caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers may use IRS employee titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate.

According to the IRS, scammers often change tactics. Variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round and tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike. Tax scams can seem more believable during the tax filing season when people are thinking about taxes.

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According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the federal agency that investigates tax-related phone scams, these types of scams have cost 14,700 victims a total of more than $72 million since October of 2013.  

Below is a list of some tactics the scammers often use, but the IRS will not do. Taxpayers should remember that any one of these is a sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Call about an unexpected refund.

For taxpayers who do not owe taxes or do not think they do:

  • Please report IRS or Treasury-related fraudulent calls to phishing@irs.gov (Subject: IRS Phone Scam).
  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately. The longer the con artist is engaged; the more opportunity they believe exists, potentially prompting more calls.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistantonline. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

For those who owe taxes or think they do:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help.
  • View your tax account online. Taxpayers can see their past 24 months of payment history, payoff amount and balance of each tax year owed.

Stay alert to scams that use the IRS or other legitimate companies and agencies as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. More information is available online.

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