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Not Fake News: Fake IRS Agents are Targeting You

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Tip of the Day. The IRS Doesn't Make Phone Calls.

Every time tax season rolls around, so does tax-scam season.

In 2016, a common scam was for online thieves, pretending to be agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to send emails to U.S. tax-paying citizens and demanding payments.

In 2017, scammers once again turn to direct telephone calls to trick people into believing they owe money to the IRS. Many of these bogus calls target seniors, who may be:

  • less likely to be aware of the scam
  • more trusting of people and government in general
  • more susceptible to scare tactics

In 2016, the U.S. government reported that over the previous three years, about 6,500 victims have handed over $36.5 million to scammers posing as Internal Revenue Service agents. And even though arrests of crime-ring leaders have been taken place during that time, new gangs of criminals emerge and the problem continues.

Here's a closer look at the telephone scam. Take care to learn what this scheme is about, then warn your friends and family (especially older ones) to be on their guard.

Because tax time is scamming time.

IRS-Impersonators making "house calls."

With the direct call scam, imposters are acting more aggressively and making their attacks and threats more personal. They call targeted groups—seniors and some immigrants—and pretend to be IRS agents.

They also are demanding immediate payment on current and/or back taxes.

In many cases, they call the home phone numbers (landlines) of their victims, which many families (especially older households) still rely on.

The scam is sophisticated, scary and very effective. Here's what U.S. government agencies have heard from victims about the scammer's tactics:

  • The con artists are very convincing. They will use realistic official-sounding titles, names and identification numbers.
  • They may know already know their targets' name, addresses and other public or general information.
  • In some cases, the imposters call from a phone number that shows on a victim's phone's screen with some mention of "IRS." (That's not hard to do.)

"Pay up...or else!"

If the victim is fooled into continuing the conversation (believing he or she is really talking to the IRS), they're told they must pay a past debt immediately. The fake agents have reportedly been aggressive and rude, hostile and insulting.

If the targeted listener isn't quick to cooperate, the con artist may do the following:

  • Threaten to have the police or IRS come to serve a warrant for arrest
  • Threaten to have the victim's driver's license suspended until payment is made
  • Threaten an undocumented resident with deportation

The real IRS doesn't call!

The IRS will never do any of the following. (But crooks pretending to the IRS will!):

  • Call you saying you owe taxes and demand immediate payment over the phone.
  • Make their first contact with you about owed taxes by phone. (The IRS always notifies by mail over many months.)
  • Call or email you and ask that you identity yourself by providing personal or financial information (bank account numbers, etc.).
  • Force you to pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to ask questions or appeal the amount.
  • Suggest you use a specific payment method to cover back taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Request credit card or debit card information from you over the phone.
  • Scare you with threats of a quick arrest you and jail time if you don't make immediate payments.

Based on the information above here's what you should do should if you ever get a call from "the IRS":

  • Hang up instantly. Don't provide any information. It's okay.
  • Don't pick up the phone if they call back.
  • Report the call to U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). They are the organization that handles going after the thieves. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission. Go to FTC.gov and find the section called FTC Complaint Assistant.

The "nice-guy" scam! "Uncle Sam owes you!"

As if impersonating an IRS agent isn't bad enough, here's an even dirtier trick. Scam artists calling to say that the IRS has a refund for you! (If the victim isn't home and the con artist gets the answering machine, an urgent message is left, saying "call right away to get your refund."

It's more than a phone prank. If victims get lured in, they wind up providing their bank account information and Social Security numbers to get their supposed refund deposited into their account.

Remember: Scammers Change Tactics.

The tactics may change and the scam artists may change but the threat at tax time remains the same—thieves will target us during the heart of tax season because they know we're thinking, and usually worrying, about taxes.

"These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns," said an IRS commissioner.

"Don't be fooled," he stresses. "The IRS won't be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment."

Only the fake IRS will do that.

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