Have you ever received an email purportedly from a friend who is travelling and finds him or herself without a passport and credit card and needs your cash to get back home? Or perhaps you’ve been contacted by someone claiming to be the executor of the estate of a long lost relative or foreign royalty who has millions to share. Last week, a friend was notified by a breathless caller, “You’ve won an SUV. All we need is your Social Security number to process the paperwork.” Needless to say, the conversation didn’t progress from there!
One of the most dangerous telephone scams involves a call from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Many honest taxpayers have reported receiving aggressive messages telling them that they owe money to the IRS. The phone message states that if the debt is not paid immediately via a wire transfer, the person faces arrest or suspension of a driver’s license. In some cases, immigrants have been threatened with deportation. In another version of this scam, a live caller engages with the taxpayer, often reciting personal information such as the last four digits of the taxpayer’s Social Security number. And these bogus calls are often followed by bogus emails. Amazingly, the IRS estimates that more than 5,000 victims have collectively paid over $26.5 million to these scammers.
The IRS reminds people that it easy to spot a supposed IRS caller as a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do, but the IRS says it will never do:
- Call to demand immediate payment or call to discuss taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill,
- Call or email to ask for personal and financial information,
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe,
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes such as a prepaid debit card,
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for failure to pay.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here is what you should do:
- If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or on the internet.
- You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant and include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
- If you get an email that purports to be from the IRS, make sure you don’t click on any attachments. Instead, forward the email, in its entirety, to phishing@IRS.gov.
Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For the latest information on reporting tax scams, go to the IRS website and type “scam” in the search box.