During the months of January to April each year, a majority of the population within the United States has one thing on their mind, taxes. From W-2s to Schedule E(s), "minimal essential coverage" to the possibility of being audited, we all know the tax season is in full swing. What the majority of the taxpayers are not thinking about is the possibility that the tax season and all the stresses that are associated with it could make them vulnerable to phone scammers looking to rob them of their money.
The IRS reports that in recent years thousands of people have lost millions of dollars as well as their personal information. Between 2013 and 2016, The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced they had received reports of almost 900,000 contacts, and they became aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively lost over $2.5 million as a result of the scam.
Scammers first tried to sting the elderly, new immigrants to the U.S., and those who speak English as a second language. They now go after everyone, and have ripped off taxpayers in every state in the nation.
The perpetrators of these aggressive and sophisticated phone scams contact the taxpayer directly through-unsolicited calls. They will tell the taxpayer that they owe a certain amount of money to the IRS and demand payment. The scammers can sound very convincing, using fake names and fake IRS identification numbers, and they even alter caller ID information to make it appear as if the call is originating from an IRS facility.
These scammers will go the extra mile to succeed. It is not uncommon for them to do online research, gathering personal information of the taxpayer, in order to solidify their scam. They have also been known to leave "urgent" call back messages, if they are unable to reach the taxpayer with their first contact attempt.
Many phone scammers will use threats of arrest, deportation, or revoking driver's licenses to get taxpayers to pay. They will demand cash, usually through a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. If the taxpayer questions the validity of the call, scammers will even humiliate and curse them.
To complicate the issue more, this year the IRS started using third part debt collectors to collect back taxes, but there are certain actions to look out for, to ensure that the taxpayer is dealing with a legitimate debt collector. The IRS will never 1) cold call a taxpayer without first sending written notice in the form of a request letter or bill; 2) call to demand immediate payment; 3) demand that the taxpayer pay takes without informing them of opportunities to question or appeal the amount they owe; 4) require the taxpayer to use a specific payment method, such a pre-paid debit card; 5) ask for credit card numbers over the phone; or 6) threaten to bring local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
If you get a call from someone claiming they are representing the IRS and you don't owe money, do the following. First, don't give out any information, and hang up immediately. Then contact TIGTA via their "IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting" web page, or by phone at 1-800-366-4484. Finally, report it to the Federal Trade Commission using their "FTC Complaint Assistant" web page.
If you believe you do owe back taxes or you have received written notice of a debt, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.
As the current IRS Commissioner has stated, "don't be fooled by callers pretending to be the IRS, looking to steal your money. If you are surprised to be hearing from us (IRS), you're not hearing from us."