IRS Imposter Scams
Published February 27, 2013 | Updated September 22, 2016
While nobody wants to be audited by an Internal Revenue Service agent, there is a far worse fate awaiting the taxpayer: getting taken in by a scammer posing as an Internal Revenue Service agent.
How IRS Scams Work
It starts with a phone call -- which is the very first red flag of many because the IRS conducts all of its initial contacting via U.S. Mail. The call is a recording that states that this is your “final warning” and that the Internal Revenue Service is about to bring a lawsuit against you for failing to pay your back taxes. A phone number is left for you to call so that you can sort out this tax problem.
When you call the number – which has an American area code – you will find yourself talking to someone who does not sound especially American, who claims to be an IRS agent. In some cases (not all calls follow the exact same script), the alleged agent will ask for your name and Social Security number and then ask you to wait while they get out your case file. They might give you your case number and their “IRS badge number,” just to ramp up the realism.
At this point, a number of things can happen. They can say that you are being accused of tax fraud, or they might tell you that they have reviewed your returns for a five-year period and that you are in arrears. The amount varies, but it is usually no less than $5,000 that you owe.
Not all calls follow the same script, however. They can be more personalized, depending on what type of information they are trying to get from you. The scammers can also be very persistent, calling multiple times – another tactic an IRS agent would never use.
How They Get Your Money
The “agent” will stress the urgency of your situation, often suggesting that your arrest is imminent. Because of this, they will tell you that you need to pay immediately. PayPal is frequently used, but there are methods as well, including pre-paid cards, Western Union, money orders, and wires. They will not accept a mailed check, another sure sign that this is a scam because, as anyone who’s ever paid a tax bill knows, the IRS has always been willing to take personal checks. If you ask to pay online via the IRS website, they will also tell you this option is not available because of the time factor in your case.
What is Really Happening
Although they are clearly operating overseas, the scammers are able to make it appear as though you are calling them back at a number in the Unites States. They do this by using something called Spoofcard, a hack that blocks your ability to properly identify the true origin of incoming calls. For their own protection, they change these numbers constantly; if you wait a day to call a number they left on the recording, chances are it will no longer work. Their insistence on only accepting payment in a form that can easily be cashed out is so that it can’t be traced to them as it could with a credit card or check payment.
Although the scammers have been working this con for a number of years, there are still those who get taken in by it. The “agents” often resort to bullying (“Do you want me to send the police to your house?” is a typical threat), which can be an effective tool against someone who is not on their guard. The elderly are especially at risk as are legal immigrants who are not entirely familiar with how tax collection works in the United States. Do your elderly relatives and friends a favor and warn them about this and other telephone-related scams so that they know what to expect.
What to Do About IRS Scammers
If you get one of the initial recorded calls, ignore it. Do not call them back. There is nothing to be gained on your end by interacting with them even if you’ve already identified them as a scammer. In fact, you might help them improve their technique!
If you are truly concerned that you might have a legitimate tax problem, visit irs.gov or call the Internal Revenue Service directly at 800-829-1040.