Tax season allows con artists to scam taxpayers out of their hard-earned money each year in the United States. These scams range from simple to sophisticated, but many are initiated using a single phone call.
Here’s how phone fraudsters are targeting taxpayers this tax season and how you can spot an IRS phone scam.
What is the “IRS Phone Scam”?
An IRS phone scam is when criminals impersonate IRS agents to dupe taxpayers into giving them money or personal information. They often use fear and intimidation to make the victims fall for their scheme. For example, they will claim that the taxpayer owes back taxes and must immediately address it. Unfortunately, once the victim falls for the scam, they suffer financial loss.
How Prevalent is the IRS Phone Scam?
IRS phone scams have become increasingly common in recent years. According to a report from Truecaller, 59.4 million Americans have lost money to phone scams over the past year.
Warning Signs of an IRS Phone Scam
- The caller demands immediate payment. It’s important to note that the IRS will never demand immediate payment.
- The caller requires personal information. The IRS will never ask for sensitive information over the phone. It’s more than likely a scam.
- The caller uses aggressive and intimidating language.
- The caller struggles to give you more information on your tax situation.
- The caller avoids answering your questions or interrupts you.
IRS Phone Scam Examples
The “Accidental Refund”
In the most recent variation of the phone-based tax scam, scammers attempt to convince taxpayers that the IRS has mistakenly awarded them a refund and will ask for it to be “returned”.
Thieves have stolen tax data from individuals or tax professionals in this scam. They use that data to file fraudulent tax returns in taxpayers’ names, then have the IRS deposit refunds in the taxpayer’s actual bank accounts. Once the tax “refund” is processed, the scammers will contact taxpayers by phone (either by a live person or an automated call with a callback number), posing as the IRS and asking for the erroneous refunds to be returned.
Of course, when the taxpayer verifies that funds were deposited in their account, this lends the scam the appearance of legitimacy. The scammer may use strong-arm tactics, including threats of jail time or arrest warrants, to convince you to pay them over the phone. But, of course, those funds will go to the thieves, not back to the IRS.
The Collection Call
In another phone scam, thieves call taxpayers to collect funds they claim are owed to the IRS.
In this scam, you may receive a call (again, from a live person or an automated caller requesting a callback) from someone claiming to represent the IRS. The “representative” will claim you owe the IRS money and demand immediate payment. They may threaten you with arrest, deportation, or suspension of your driver’s license. In some cases, they may promise a future tax refund.
The goal is simple: to get you to pay the scammer through debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers. If you give them personal information, they could use it to claim any future tax refund or commit further identity theft.
“We’re Calling from the FDIC, and We Need Your Bank Information” Call
Scammers pretend to be with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to steal money or personal information, often by threatening the target. According to the FDIC, employees never ask for money or sensitive information, such as bank account information, credit, and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or passwords.
‘We’re Calling to Tell You Your Identity was Stolen; You Need to Buy Some Gift Cards to Fix It” Call.
Scammers fool victims into believing government agencies like the IRS or FDIC accept forms of payments in gift cards, wire transfers, or digital currency. In reality, these agencies would never demand or accept payments.
“If You Don’t Call Us Back, You’ll be Arrested” Call
Scammers scare victims by pretending to be IRS agents and threatening them with jail time unless they pay immediately. It’s important to note that the IRS will never threaten you with jail time to fulfill a payment.
“We’re from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, and We Need Some Information” Call
The Taxpayer Advocate Service is a legitimate organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers facing financial problems. But unfortunately, fraudsters pretend to be associated with the group to steal from taxpayers. Here are some examples below.
- Rebate Phone Call.The caller tells the victim they are eligible for a sizable rebate for filing taxes early. The scammer then asks for bank account information to deposit the rebate, eventually allowing the scammers to steal your money.
- Paper Check Phone Call. The scammers tell the victim that the IRS has sent a check, and they need to verify their bank account number, which again allows them to access your funds.
- Debt Collector Contacts for Back Taxes. The IRS occasionally uses debt collection agencies to collect some overdue tax debts. However, the IRS will send a letter before a collection agency contacts you. If you have yet to receive a letter, consider it a scam.
- Back Taxes or Penalty Phone Call. The caller pressures the targeted victim with legal action unless they make an immediate payment. As mentioned, the IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or demand payment.
Steps To Take If You Suspect An IRS Phone Scam
- Hang up the phone. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and haven’t received any notice of the IRS in the mail, it’s probably a scam.
- Report the scam. If you believe you received a suspicious phone call, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) or Federal Trade Commission (FTC.
- Protect your personal information. If you accidentally reveal sensitive information to a scammer, you should take steps to protect yourself from identity theft during tax season. You can reach out to the major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit and signup for identity theft protection to help monitor your information.
Protecting Yourself From IRS Phone Scam
- Educate yourself on scammers’ tactics. By familiarizing yourself with common scam tactics, you better protect yourself from fraudsters in the future.
- Verify the caller’s identity. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, ask for two forms of identification. You can also call the IRS to confirm whether the call was legitimate.
- Don’t provide personal information. The IRS will never ask for personal and financial information over the phone, so hang up the call if a caller requires your personal information.
- Don’t provide payment. The IRS will never request payment, threaten legal action, or arrest you if you don’t fulfill the payment.
Reporting An IRS Phone Scam Call
- If you have been a victim of an IRS phone scam, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or their website at tigta.gov. You can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Provide as much information as possible. Make sure to complete your report in detail, including the caller’s name, phone number, and any other details they provided. This information can help track down scammers and prevent them from victimizing others.
- Seek support. Recovering from a scammer’s scheme can be a process. Seek support from friends, family, or a professional counselor if needed.
- Stay vigilant. Even after reporting a scam, staying on top of the latest scams is crucial to help you protect yourself and prevent others from being victimized.
- By reporting an IRS phone scam, you help protect yourself and others who may be vulnerable, plus you can help law enforcement track down these scammers.
Does the IRS send phone calls?
IRS employees can reach you over the phone but usually don’t call you until they send you a notice in the mail.
What is a legitimate IRS phone number?
You can reach the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.
How do I know if the IRS is trying to contact me?
The IRS typically sends a notice in the mail before contacting you by phone.
Why would the IRS want me to call them?
The IRS will contact you for an overdue tax bill, an unfiled tax return, or has not made an employment tax deposit.
Why do people fall for those IRS phone scams?
Scammers are persuasive. Unfortunately, victims quickly trust them, ultimately leaving them with financial losses.
If you’re looking for protection this tax season, consider identity theft protection. IdentityIQ identity theft protection services can help monitor your personal information and help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.