I don’t think I know anyone who’d be excited to get a call from the IRS. But that being said, if I saw them ringing through on my caller ID, I would answer. I mean, wouldn’t you? A problem with our taxes is something we’re eager to get mopped up quickly because we’re all aware that the repercussions can be very serious.
Well that’s exactly the type of thinking being manipulated by one of the most pervasive phone scams of all time. If you’ve seen it in the news, then you know that the IRS Phone Scam has been going on nationally for about a year now, and it shows no sign of slowing down. The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have received over 90,000 complaints and identified approximately 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million from these scams. If you’re saying “Yikes” right about now, then we’re on the same page. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with this scam and explore how to avoid these IRS impostors.
We’ll start by going through the typical way these scam calls go down. The scammer will identify her or himself as an IRS agent with a generic American name like Julie Smith or John Parker. (My personal favorites are from the scammers who took a page out of Hollywood when they picked their pseudonyms—Steve Martin and Leo DiCaprio’s “Titanic” character Jack Dawson are real examples.) The scammer will report alleged charges against you including defrauding the government, money owed for back taxes, law suits pending against the recipient, and nonpayment of taxes. But it’ll all go away if you make an immediate payment via a prepaid money card or wire transfer.
If you protest, then that’s when the threats start piling on. “You’ll go to jail,” “This will cost you thousands in legal fees,” “We’ll freeze your bank accounts,” “You’ll be deported…” The list goes on, and the tone of these scammers turns abusive fast. And while all of this seems like it should be pretty obvious that this is a hoax, the scammers do a few things that have thrown their victims for a loop:
- They rig caller ID to show an IRS number
- They can rattle off the last 4 digits of your SSN
- They know some of your other contact info and will follow up with an email or more phone calls
Long story short, these IRS scammers are a real pain in the rear, but I’ve got a few tips that will keep you outsmarting them at every turn.
- The IRS almost never calls people about back taxes, they’d send you something in the mail.
- The IRS would never ask for immediate payment over the phone.
- The IRS would not call after normal office hours nor would they get abusive on the phone.
- Get yourself a caller ID service that offers spam score. Whitepages Current Caller ID shows an alert on your phone when an incoming call is suspected of spam.
- Perform a Reverse Phone Lookup if you feel something suspicious happening. Whitepages encourages its users to be a force in fighting spam. We have a field on every number’s page where you can leave a comment to report the number as spam.
Hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with one of these IRS scammers, but if you do, you’ll know how to handle them. And don’t forget to send the IRS a tip about them. File a complaint about an IRS scammer using the FTC Complaint Assistant.