Have you recently received a phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS? Perhaps they said that you owe taxes that require immediate payment, or you may face arrest, deportation, or license revocation if you don’t pay your bill. Before you start panicking, you need to learn about IRS phone scams and how to determine whether or not the call was legitimate.

IRS scam calls are unfortunately very common, and remain on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list of known tax scams for the 2018 filing season. In addition to phishing and inflated refund claims, IRS phone scams lock down a top spot (#2) on the Dirty Dozen due to their prevalence and frequency.

Although IRS phone scams surge during tax seasons, con artists may try to steal your sensitive information throughout the whole year. Keep reading to learn how you can detect an IRS telephone scam—and what steps to take if you do.

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How Do IRS Scam Calls Work?

You’ll receive an unsolicited phone call from someone impersonating an IRS agent. Telephone numbers are part of the public domain and incredibly easy for scammers to access. There’s many different ways they can get your number and call you, from harvesting big data to using technology to dial millions of random numbers.

In any case, once your privacy has been violated, the impersonator on the other end of the IRS phone scam will claim to work for the federal government as an IRS agent. They’ll accuse you of fraud, misconduct, or outstanding tax debt. Their message will be urgent and time sensitive, and might claim that you’ll be arrested for not paying your tax bill immediately.

The goal is to instill fear into the IRS telephone scam recipient in order to get them to pay for a bogus bill. Instead of going to the government to rectify an alleged outstanding tax obligation, any payment made over the phone would go straight to the con artist.

Frighteningly, IRS scam calls are very successful at duping taxpayers. Between October 2013 and February 2017 alone, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports they have become aware of over 10,000 victims who have collectively paid over $54 million as a result of phone scams. Learn how to identify IRS phone scams to prevent becoming another statistic.

How to Spot an IRS Phone Call Scam

If you received an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be an IRS official, you should immediately be suspicious. You might also receive a voicemail leaving an urgent callback request through “robo-calls,”which are also reasons for concern. Scammers frequently alter caller ID numbers to make it look like a legitimate government agency is calling and appear more credible; in order to spot these IRS scam calls, remember that generally, the real IRS will always mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes first.

Whoever you speak to during an IRS telephone scam might be resourceful, prepared with your name, address, and other personal information to improve their perceived legitimacy. To determine whether or not the person actually works for the IRS, ask for their name and employee ID number. Hang up, then call the IRS back to determine whether or not that person really works there.

An IRS lawsuit phone scam typically uses intimidation tactics to bully the victim into paying. They may threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying. Aggressive tactics such as this are a red flag, since the IRS will never make these threats. Keep in mind, however, that variations of IRS impersonations continue year-round and you need to stay vigilant against new methods.

A final characteristic of an IRS phone call scam is the demand for payment without giving the taxpayer an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed. They request a specific payment method and con victims into sending cash, usually through a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. Note that the IRS will never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; if they do, it’s a tell-tale sign that it is an IRS scam call.

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What to Do if You Receive an IRS Telephone Scam Call

If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone who claims to be with the government, follow these steps to protect your personal information and dodge an IRS phone scam.

  • Ask for their name and employee ID number
  • Hang up. Do not give out any of your information, don’t engage, and don’t call back.
  • If you know you don’t owe any taxes, report the incident to TIGTA by calling 800-366-4484 or going to their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at FTC.gov using the “FTC Complaint Assistant“. Include “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you may owe taxes, call the IRS back at 800-829-1040 and speak to a worker who can help.

It may seem impossible to keep up with new threats the long list of tax scams impose. From IRS phone scams to phishing hackers, fake charities to return preparer fraud, the dangers faced by taxpayers are very real. If you’re nervous about IRS scam calls, consider using Community Tax for greater security.

Using Community Tax’s professional tax filing service will ensure that your return is filed perfectly and bereft of errors. If it turns out have any outstanding tax obligations, we’ll work with you to settle your debt using the best tax resolution option for your situation. You’ll know you’re in good standing with the IRS, and will never get conned into an IRS phone call scam. Community Tax also offers a monthly monitoring and protection program to prevent any IRS problems and provide year-round tax identity theft assistance, lifting the burden of worry for just a small fee.

If you’ve been the unfortunate victim of an IRS phone scam, we can help resolve your case. Our tax practitioners have experience with fixing many of these situations on behalf of our clients by dealing directly with the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit.

Contact Community Tax today to learn how we can resolve any of your tax-related issues—and how we can prevent them from occurring in the first place.