Fraudsters Rising: IRS Impersonators Flooding the Phone Lines

Lewitt Hackman
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There seems to be an uptick in phone calls from people claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, telling potential victims they owe back taxes and demanding immediate payment.  They threaten lawsuits (or worse) unless the person called makes a payment immediately.

The fraudsters are using fake names, usually something common like "John Smith" and providing fake IRS badge numbers. They sometimes seem to know the potential victims' last four social security numbers, adding another false layer of legitimacy.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says this latest wave of IRS scams is the largest officials have ever seen. According to an October report by Time Magazine, IRS impersonators have made more than 90,000 phone calls to consumers and have acquired more than $5,000,000.

Red Flags: How to Determine When You're Being Scammed

So how should you protect yourself? Consider these points when getting a potential call form the IRS 

  1. Tiny Mistakes: The caller says s/he is from Internal Revenue Services – the IRS is a single entity, not plural.
  2. Immediate Payment: The IRS always provides  an opportunity for you to question or appeal the amount you purportedly owe.
  3. Payment Methods: The IRS will not accept prepaid debit cards, nor will they ask you for your credit card over the phone.
  4. Threats: The IRS won't have the police or other law enforcement agency come to your doorstep immediately. People who truly owe large sums in back taxes go to court first. They're not going to turn off your utilities or have you deported.
  5. Communication Methods: The IRS will not send you emails (phishing scams), text messages or any social media platform to contact you. If you do owe money to the IRS, you'll be notified via U.S. Mail.

Protecting Yourself From Scammers

There are several steps you can take to safeguard yourself from tax scams. 

  1. Don't answer calls from telephone numbers you don't recognize. Don't click on any links in emails that claim to be from the IRS.
  2. Never give out pin numbers to bank accounts, credit card numbers or social security information. The same scammers may call to congratulate you on having your "loan application" approved, and tell you they just need a little more information.
  3. Be suspicious of any deal that seems too good to be true.  

Report scammers to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by phone: 1.800.366.4484 or forward suspect emails to: phishing@irs.gov. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission online.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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