IRS Fraud CallsPublished:
“Hello, This Is the Internal Revenue Service.” No, It’s Not.
Fraudsters stole an estimated $5 million dollars from more than 1,000 victims by impersonating the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Imposter scams hit everyone, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) called the IRS phone scam “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen.”
The scam goes like this:
You would get a call about a federal tax debt from someone saying they’re from the IRS. Or they may say you’re owed a large tax refund. It’s the first you’ve heard of it, and the fake Internal Revenue Service agent gives you a generic name and badge number. They might refer to some unreported income or refer to a fraudulent return.
They’ll ask questions as a part of an identity verification process. They may say the last four digits of your Social Security Number but ask you for the whole number. They may ask for PIN numbers, card numbers, address, or the social security number of your spouse as part of the taxpayer identification process.
Then, they’ll demand immediate payment for the tax debt, with a gift card, a prepaid debit card, or a wire transfer. Over the phone, even. They’ll threaten to withhold your federal income tax refund or to contact other federal agencies or a local law enforcement agency. They may even threaten your business license, threaten jail time, threaten your immigration status, or lengthy criminal investigations.
Calls like this are hostile, disturbing, and emotionally draining.
Instilling fear and keeping you guessing are among the common tactics scam artists and predatory debt collectors use.
Aren’t you glad that’s not how the real IRS actually works?
“This is not how we operate,” former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment.”
Federal employees are public servants for the United States. They’re getting a bad reputation from the phone scam while the U.S. Treasury inspector and his team investigate. They’ve gotten 90,000 complaints and are pursuing them all. Koskinen wants all U.S. taxpayers to remember that the IRS will not call them out of the blue and demand immediate payment. They will not contact immigration officers or send the local law enforcement to your door.
If you do get a harassing call demanding payment, you should hang up. Don’t give any personal information or confirm anything they say.
You can also take the extra step to contact the TIGTA or the IRS to report impersonation scams. More about that in a second.
How Does the IRS Contact People?
The IRS will first contact you by regular mail. The IRS issues mail to taxpayers whenever they start a conversation. They will not call or email you, even if you used the IRS E-File program to submit your federal income tax return. Unsolicited emails from “the IRS” deserve to be in your spam folder.
The U.S. Treasury contacts taxpayers by mail first. If you did file an inaccurate tax return or you owe a tax debt, you’ll hear about it first via the U.S. mail.
The letter will also give you a reasonable period of time to respond, plus information on how to contact the IRS at your convenience, including the address of the nearest Taxpayer Assistance Center.
If you do need to make some sort of payment, you’ll have a range of payment options, including credit card or debit card choices on the IRS website’s official portal. There is not an option to pay via gift card.
If you get an unannounced visit from someone claiming to be from a tax agency, you can also ask to see their HSPD-12 card. The HSPD-12 card is one of two standard forms of identification for government employees and government contractors. Revenue agents have an HSPD-12 card along with their IRS-issued credentials, sometimes called their “pocket commission.”
^An example diagram of a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card issued by various United States government agencies. Not all fields are used by all agencies.
The IRS fights fraud at every level because the public trust matters.
The Most Common IRS-Related Scams & Signs of a Scam
Fraud calls claiming to collect on delinquent tax returns are the most widespread of the IRS-related scams.
IRS imposters also call about tax debt relief while needing identification information. That’s a common hook for identity theft.
One of the common COVID-19 scam attempts include impersonating IRS agents about misdirected stimulus payments, promising back payments, or seeking a tax payment.
Here’s another tax scam: U.S. Treasury agents calling to collect a portion of winnings for a lottery sweepstakes you didn’t know you won. This one combines the allure of winning the lottery with the heated urgency to comply, “or else.”
By no means is this a complete list of tax scams. However, the scam calls and scam emails tend to share some common signs:
- They will use fake names and fake identification badge numbers.
- Scam calls may trick your caller ID to look like the IRS toll-free number.
- Scammers may recite the last four digits of your social security number.
- You might hear background noises that sound like a call center.
- You may receive fraudulent emails from a fake IRS email address that seem to support the fraudulent phone calls.
- Scammers may hang up after making a threat, only for another scammer impersonating local law enforcement to reinforce the threat from the first call.
To keep running impersonation phone scams, fraudsters must keep coming up with new ways to trick taxpayers. These scams take advantage of law-abiding citizens by exploiting the fact that the U.S. Treasury rarely contacts taxpayers.
While they’re on social media channels like Facebook, the IRS reserves making direct contact with taxpayers for rare situations. Which may mean you don’t know what’s normal.
Let’s go over a few basics so you don’t fall for any scam emails or calls:
- The IRS will never insist you use a specific payment method. Instead, revenue officers show you multiple methods for tax payments.
- The IRS will never demand immediate payment over the phone.
- The IRS will never take enforcement actions directly after a phone call.
- The IRS will give you a certain amount of days of notice before any kind of enforcement actions on a tax debt or lien.
Stay vigilant against IRS-related phone scams and email scams. Remember, the IRS doesn’t ask for confidential information, including PIN numbers or passwords. Again, the IRS does not make initial contact via phone or email.
If you want to ask about a possible tax debt, call the IRS 1-800-829-1040 The revenue officers on that call will be able to offer official credentials, as well as answer questions about tax liability or resolve payment issues. That is, if one even exists.
Related Reading: How to Avoid Tax Scams in the Countdown to April 15
Who Should I Contact to Report a Scam If I Get a Suspicious Phone Call?
You have a few options to report impersonation scams.
The IRS recommends you report the incident by calling TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484. Make note of whether the caller made any threats and share any details you can.
You can also 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.
If you receive an IRS scam email, do not open attachments or click any links. Instead, forward the suspicious email to [email protected]