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IRS phone scammers are getting more sophisticated

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Have any tax questions? Email us at MoneyQuestions@yahoo.com.

Money scams and identity theft run rampant all year around, with crooks using the threat of the IRS as a way to get money or information from victims. These attacks take on more prominence during tax season when paying the IRS is top of mind.

To address this growing problem, the IRS has issued warnings to tax professionals and taxpayers of scams requesting last-minute deposit changes for refunds or account updates. While many of these scams take place online with phishing emails, crooks posing as IRS employees have been placing threatening calls to victims on the phone demanding immediate payment for tax debts.

Unfortunately for the retired population, they tend to be the most vulnerable to this type of phone fraud for the simple reason that they’re more likely to be at home to receive these calls on their landlines, warns the IRS. Nina Olson, the US taxpayer advocate, says a younger person might be more cautious and ask for a search warrant, but a senior may not.  

There are many different kinds of tax-related phone scams, but Olson highlights some of the most common ways these crooks try to take advantage of you:

#1 You get a voicemail message that the IRS is filing a lien against you for your tax debt, with a request for an immediate call back. Even Olson (who would be fired if she had any tax debts) has received several of these bogus messages. “The IRS doesn’t cold-call taxpayers for immediate payment,” she says. If you have a tax debt, a collection issue, or you’re a target of a criminal investigation by the IRS, Olson says it will not be a surprise because there will be plenty of communication from the IRS and it would never be in the form of an urgent phone call. You’d also have the opportunity to question or appeal the amount. 

#2 If the phone rings and you’ve picked up the phone, these con artists attempt to hold you up with the threat of having the police sent to your home. And these scammers will threaten to throw you in jail unless you pay up. While the IRS might seem like an intimidating government agency, this is not a tactic the IRS will ever use against taxpayers. Those who are actually under investigation will have plenty of advance notice in writing.  

#3 The technical tricks scammers use to make these calls look and sound legit are sophisticated. Their caller ID’s can be hacked to read “IRS,” their fake employee badge IDs might sound real, and they’ll have a lot of information on you that they’ve found online. If you’re not 100% sure about the credibility of the call, the best thing to do is to hang up the phone immediately and call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 where real IRS workers can help you, and also direct you to places where you can report the scam call.

#4 These criminals typically demand immediate payment via wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift cards. This should be a big red flag as the IRS would never ask for credit or debit card information over the phone, and most certainly would not seek gift cards or money transfers as legitimate methods to settle unpaid debt.

#5 The best thing to do is to hang up as soon as you can because these phonies will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible — offering to stay with you while you go to the bank or Western Union until they’ve received the funds on their end. No matter how real they seem, these types of requests are completely bogus. Do not give up any information over the phone.


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