IRS Fraud Calls: What To Do If the IRS Calls You

FT Contributor
A telephone with a yellow warning sign over it that reads "IRS Scam."
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Unfortunately, criminals pose as the IRS and trick many Americans into financial scams. There are a variety of scams these criminals run, posing as businesses requesting that an individual pay an invoice or even posing as an institution the individual might recognize.

In 2018, there were 38,967 reported incidents of tax fraud. The Federal Trade Commission reported that nearly one in five people were victims of IRS impostor scams in 2018 and almost $488 million was lost.

There are multiple forms of fraud, from phishing scams to phone call scams and more. Scammers will do everything they can to stay ahead, so it’s important to be aware of the latest scams.

Understand how to detect a fraudulent call from the IRS and what to do if the “IRS” does call you.

Does the IRS Call You?

The short answer is no, the IRS doesn’t call you — they prefer snail mail. If the IRS calls, it will be after a taxpayer receives a written notice confirming an appointment or a scheduled audit. Other forms of communication the IRS does not use include:

  • Social media.
  • Text messaging.
  • Emails.
  • Visits.

In some cases, an IRS employee will visit a taxpayer, but advance notice is usually provided. Similarly, the IRS may contact you via email, but only after you have enrolled through an application online and have given consent. This is to confirm your use of their online applications. If you receive any kind of email from the IRS without giving consent to receive information via email, report it as a phishing scam.

The IRS uses snail mail to communicate. Doing so gives them greater control over protecting your personal financial information. In addition, they are able to clearly communicate directions to the taxpayer via snail mail.

Even though the IRS will not call you out of nowhere, it is possible for you to call the IRS at a variety of phone numbers for any questions you have about your taxes.

Fake IRS Calls

There are multiple different types of scams in which the perpetrators pretend to be the IRS.

  1. Phone scams: A taxpayer will receive a pre-recorded call that is deemed as urgent. The call may come from anywhere in the country and may even resemble the phone number of an IRS office. Scammers may also obtain a number that mimics that of another government agency, like the local police or the U.S. Department of Transportation. There are various phone scams, but most of them ask the victim to return the call or risk being arrested. Others make threats related to deportation or revocation of business licenses.
  2. Email scams: The IRS will never contact a taxpayer via email, let alone request financial information. If an email comes through that looks like it’s from the IRS, it should be reported as fraudulent to the IRS.
  3. Social Security scams: In this scam, a taxpayer’s Social Security number is “suspended.” In some cases, the scammer may mention overdue taxes. Con artists will request that their automated call be returned, but rest assured that this is not the actual IRS calling you.
  4. Fraudulent tax agency scams: A taxpayer may receive a letter threatening an IRS lien or levy, but this is based on fake delinquent taxes. It may come from the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement,” but this is not an approved government agency.

Common Scam Themes

There are a few common themes among scams that you should beware of.  

Here’s how you can tell if a call from the IRS is fake. IRS employees and contractors will never:

  1. Demand immediate payments without giving the taxpayer a chance to question or appeal what is owed.
  2. Request that you use specific payment method, such as prepaid debit card or wire transfer.
  3. Threaten to involve local law enforcement or lawsuits, deportation, or arrest for not paying.
  4. Be hostile or insulting towards the taxpayer.
  5. Request debit or credit card information over the phone.

If you receive a call from the IRS without prior written notice, it is most likely a scam. Additionally, if the caller does not identify themselves or if the caller is automated, it’s probably a fraudulent call.

How to Report IRS Phone Scams

If you have received a call from someone pretending to be the IRS, you should report it right away.

Block the caller and do not return their calls. View your tax information online through the IRS to check if you owe anything. If the call was truly fraudulent, report it to the Treasury Inspector for Tax Administration. You can also submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and your local Attorney General.

Provide the telephone number that called you as well as the number you were instructed to call back in your report, as well as a brief description of the caller’s request.  If you have it, you should also include information like the employee’s name or identification number, the time zone the call came from, and the date and time of the call.

Whatever you do, never blindly give away money to someone claiming to be the IRS. New scams are constantly being developed, so it’s important to be aware of the ways the IRS will contact you as well as the ways they won’t.

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