Now and then I hear from a client who suspects that an IRS imposter is targeting them with a fraudulent phone call or email. According to the IRS, these calls are becoming more frequent and are increasingly aided by robocall technology. My first response is always the same: Don’t respond.
Here’s why. The IRS isn't exactly modern. If it needs to get in touch with you, it will send a letter— not an email, not a phone call, and not a message over social media.
What Is an IRS Imposter Scam?
According to the IRS there are some brazen scammers who target unwary taxpayers by impersonating agents of the Internal Revenue Service. Two common scams:
- Tax collection - You receive a phone call claiming that you owe taxes. They will demand that you pay the amount immediately often with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may even threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay. They can also trick a caller ID into making it seem that the call is from a real IRS office. Sometimes they know part of your Social Security number.
- Verification - You receive an email or text message that requires you to verify your personal information. This message often includes a hyperlink phrase "click here" or a button to a fraudulent form or website.
What Should You Know If You Are Targeted?
The IRS says that you should never return a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Instead, individuals should call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040, and businesses should call 800-829-4933.
The US Department of Justice says the IRS never discusses personal tax issues through unsolicited emails or texts, or over social media. Always be wary if someone claiming to be from the IRS contacts you and says you owe money.
How Should You Respond When Contacted?
The AARP has some good advice:
- Don’t provide or confirm personal or financial information over the phone to someone who claims to be a government official.
- Don’t respond to a purported IRS email or text message asking for your information. The IRS doesn’t do that.
- Don’t agree to pay a tax bill with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers prefer these methods because they're difficult to trace and can be used almost anywhere.
- Don’t give credit or debit card numbers to a caller claiming to be an IRS official. The IRS says it never asks for such information over the phone.
- Don't assume a caller who tells you to verify his or her phone number by checking the IRS website is on the level. Caller IDs can be rigged to display the phone number of a real IRS office.
- Don't be bullied. A scammer will issue threats and demands, but according to the IRS, if you do owe back taxes, you will receive a bill in the mail. This document will explain how to appeal or question the amount.
- If contacted by phone, the safest response is to hang up. That way, you won't be tempted to engage with a scammer whose goal is to get information or money from you.
- Do forward any unsolicited emails in which someone claims to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department to to firstname.lastname@example.org Do not click on any links or open attachments.
- Do consider filing a fraud alert or freezing your credit with the three major credit-reporting bureaus if a scammer knows part of your Social Security number.
- Do ask for identification if you’re contacted in person by someone claiming to be from the IRS. Actual employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” and an HSPD-12 card, a standard ID for federal workers. An IRS employee will provide, on request, a dedicated agency phone number for you to verify the information on the card.
- Contact your trusted tax professional for the best advice on how to respond to any communication from the IRS.
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