During tax filing season, the Internal Revenue Service generally sees a surge in scam phone calls threatening such things as arrest, deportation and license revocation if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill. In a new twist being seen in recent weeks, 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.
Con artists make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a fraudulent tax bill. They convince the victim to send cash, usually through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card or gift card. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or send a phishing email.
One example is this transcript of a phone message left for a Filbrandt & Company employee:
“It is very important that you call us back. The issue at hand is extremely time-sensitive. This is Officer Sarah Wilson from Internal Revenue Service. The hotline to my division is (phone number redacted). I repeat, it is (phone number redacted). Do not disregard this message and call us back. If you do not call us back or we do not hear from your attorney either, then get ready to face the legal consequences. Goodbye and take care.”
Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of their victim if they don’t get the money.
Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers, but variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round and they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike.
Here are some things the scammers often do, but the IRS will not do. Taxpayers should remember that any one of these is a tell-tale sign of a scam.
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
- 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.
Taxpayers who don’t owe any taxes or don’t think they do should not give out any information, and hang up immediately, according to the IRS. A good rule of thumb is not to answer any phone call from a caller ID number that you do not recognize.
Taxpayers have a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore these rights and the agency’s obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.