ID Theft

Fake IRS calls vs. legit IRS contact

Don’t be surprised if someone claiming to be from the IRS calls you on Tax Day. And don’t be surprised if the caller claiming to be an IRS agent is actually a scammer.

Recent data analysis suggests that Tax Day has become a haven for criminals using robocalls and other methods to trick consumers into surrendering their personal and financial information. Transaction Network Services, Inc. reported that Tax Day 2018 — which fell on April 17 that year — saw more negative robocalls than any other day that year.

Transaction Network Services reported that nearly 143 million nuisance and high-risk robocalls were placed on 2018’s Tax Day. A preferred tactic that scammers will attempt is to call your phone number and pose as representatives of the Internal Revenue Service as a way to persuade taxpayers into providing their Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, or other personal identification to the fraudster.

This research provides all the support you need: You must be vigilant on and around Tax Day for scam calls. If you’re not, you could expose yourself to financial pain.

Facts about fake IRS calls

Fake IRS calls are a scam to be aware of and prepare for. They can lead to your personal information being exposed, which can be used for identity theft. Here are some recent statistics about phone scams:

April is a big month for negative robocalls

Transaction Network Services said that nuisance robocall volume increased 13 percent in 2018. April was the highest volume month of the year — the same month during which we pay our taxes — with 10 percent of the negative calls for the year coming during the month.

Plenty of victims

Fake IRS calls can be effective. The U.S. Justice Department in 2018 broke up an IRS impersonation operation that ran from 2012 to 2016, causing what the New York Times reported was hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from more than 15,000 victims.

What’s a fake IRS call?

What happens during a fake IRS call? A recent warning issued by the IRS provides a good example. According to a warning released in March 2019, criminals place fake calls to taxpayers, fraudulently claiming they are calling from the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

There is such a service, an independent organization within the IRS. The IRS says that the service’s goal is to protect the rights of taxpayers and to help them with any tax problems they cannot resolve. However, the Taxpayer Advocate Service does not make unsolicited calls to taxpayers. Instead, taxpayers reach out to them.

The IRS says scammers are spoofing the telephone number of the Taxpayer Advocate Service in Houston or Brooklyn. Spoofing is when scammers make it look like a call is coming from a certain number, even if it isn’t. By spoofing a legitimate number, criminals boost the odds that consumers will pick up a call and fall for a scam.

Often, the scammers will send a robocall, a recorded message asking consumers to call a certain number. Once consumers do this, the scammer on the other end tries to convince the intended victim to provide their Social Security number or other personal or financial information.

Scammers can then use this information to access consumer bank accounts, make fraudulent purchases with their credit cards, or even take out loans in their names.

This isn’t the only version of the fake IRS phone scam. Scammers might tell consumers that they are due a large tax refund, but that they can only get that refund after providing their bank account information for direct deposit. Other scammers might convince taxpayers that they need to pay a tax shortfall immediately with a wire transfer.

By the way, the IRS has information about a variety of tax scams and identity theft on its website

Signs of fake IRS calls

Fake IRS calls are easy to spot if you know what to look for. Here are several ways to tell.

The “IRS” is calling you

You should be immediately suspicious if the phone rings and someone claiming to be an IRS agent is on the other end of the line. That’s because only in extremely rare situations does a representative of the IRS directly contact a taxpayer. According to the IRS, it usually contacts taxpayers through regular mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

This doesn’t mean that every phone call claiming to be from the IRS is a scam. The service does call homes or businesses in special circumstances, such as when it is trying to collect an overdue tax bill or secure a delinquent tax return.

Be vigilant, then, when someone claiming to work for the IRS calls you. The odds are good that it might be a scam.

The caller wants you to pay right now

The IRS says it will not demand immediate payment from taxpayers and it will not demand that such payment be made in a specific way. Scammers, though, might demand that you make a payment immediately using a prepaid debt card, gift card, or wire transfer. The IRS says it will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

The caller doesn’t give you a chance to think

If the person claiming to be an IRS representative does not give you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount you supposedly owe, be careful. This, too, is the sign of a scammer.

Criminals want you to make a decision while you are in panic mode. You’re more likely to fall for the scam and send in a payment. The IRS will give you the opportunity to prove that you don’t owe what the agency claims you do.

The caller threatens you with arrest

The IRS won’t threaten to have you arrested. The agency also won’t threaten to have you deported. Be suspicious, too, if the person calling you threatens to revoke your driver’s license or business license. These threats are standard tricks used by scammers to bully you into sending them money or personal information.

What should I do about fake IRS calls?

What should you do if you are targeted by a fake IRS call? Your best bet is to hang up. Don’t engage with someone you suspect might be a scammer. And if you’re unsure, hang up and then call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 to see if you really were contacted by the service.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you never give out personal or financial information over the phone to someone claiming to be an IRS agent. If you keep that information to yourself, the scammer can’t use it against you.

The FTC also reminds that you should never send money by wire transfer, gift card or prepaid debit card to someone claiming to work with the IRS. Remember, the IRS will never request that you send it money with such a specific type of payment.

Report fake IRS calls

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you report fake IRS calls to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration here. You can also report these calls to the Federal Trade Commission here.

The IRS recommends that you provide the telephone number of the caller if your Caller ID picked it up. If the scam comes in the form of a robocall, you can report the number that the robocall instructed you to call.

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