Here’s Why You Should Always Ignore Threatening Phone Calls from “the IRS”

It's one of the oldest scams in the book!

Here’s Why You Should Always Ignore Threatening Phone Calls from “the IRS”

It's one of the oldest scams in the book!

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Now that tax season is officially over, you might find yourself getting a phone call or voicemail from someone claiming to be from the IRS, informing you that you that there is a pending case of tax fraud against you and that you need to call back immediately to avoid going to prison. If this does happen to you, don’t worry: it’s just a scam, and an all-too-common one at that.

This happened to me back in 2014. I received a voicemail from an unknown number, robotically informing me that I had failed to file my taxes in 2008 and needed to call back immediately or else I would be arrested. I didn’t know much about taxes at the time, so I panicked and called back. When I asked the woman who had called questions about how this had happened, she kept repeating the same thing over and over to me, as though reading from a script, which was my first sign that this might not be entirely legit.

Later, my accountant called me to assure me this was a scam, and gave me a piece of very useful information that isn’t widely known: if you do get audited by the IRS, they will never call you. Generally, if a taxpayer does owe money, the IRS will send an official letter to your permanent address.

According to a March 6 post on the official IRS website, there have been 12,716 victims who have collectively paid over $63 million as a result of phone scams since October 2013. As was the case with me, the most common tactic is to call a taxpayer and threaten to arrest or deport them if they don’t immediately send cash via a wire transfer or their credit or debit card. Oftentimes, they will change caller ID numbers to make it look like the call is coming from Washington D.C., or use IRS employee numbers and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They will also often rattle off personal information that could easily be found online, such as your name and address, in order to appear credible.

While threatening to arrest someone is the most classic move, the website notes that scammers change tactics every year in an effort to get money from their victims.

“In a new twist being seen in recent weeks,” the website reads, “identity thieves file fraudulent tax returns with refunds going into the real taxpayer’s bank account—followed by a phone call trying to con the taxpayer to send the money to the scammer.”

To help avoid scams, the IRS lists a few things that they would never, ever do, including: “Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying. Demand that taxes be paid without giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. Call you about an unexpected refund.”

In a recent Reddit thread, many people who have received these kinds of calls say they have interacted with the identity thieves even if they know it’s a scam, just to call them out on it. This is a bad idea. In the past, scammers have called people with the question, “Can you hear me?” and recorded the person responding, “Yes.” The hacker can then potentially use the recording of you saying, “Yes,” to make unauthorized charges in your name.

To protect yourself, the best course of action is to not pick up or return the call. Then, contact TIGTA, use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page, or call 800-366-4484 to report the scam. You can also report the call to the Federal Trade Commission, using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov, and put “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes. As is always the case with any scam, it’s always a good idea to check your bank account for any suspicious activity and get a credit report.

And for more advice on filing your taxes, check out the 5 Best Ways to Avoid Getting Audited by the IRS.

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