Kelly Phillips Erb, Forbes.com, 1/22/2015
It’s tax season. That, unfortunately, also means that it’s fraud season.
This week, the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) issued a reminder to taxpayers to beware of scammers making calls claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The scam, which heated up last year, has continued to plague taxpayers. TIGTA called the scheme “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen.” The agency has received reports of more than a quarter million phony contacts since October 2013. Thousands of victims have collectively paid out over $14 million to scammers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding cash. Those kinds of dollars keep the calls coming.
Expect those calls to continue throughout tax season. J. Russell George, Inspector General (IG), warns, “The increasing number of people not only receiving but accepting these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming.” He encourages taxpayers to be on “high alert” – especially now. “At all times,” the IG says, “and particularly during the tax filing season, we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alert to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals. Do not become a victim.”
How do you avoid becoming a victim? George says the answer is simple, “If they call you, hang up the telephone.” He explained, “This is a crime of opportunity, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to take away the opportunity. Do not engage with these callers.”
In fact, if the phone is ringing and the caller claims to be from IRS, you can generally assume that it’s not IRS if it’s your first contact. This is true even if the caller offers up a name and badge number or knows the last four digits of your Social Security. The IRS usually first contacts people by mail – not by phone and not by email – about unpaid taxes.
If you do owe taxes, the IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.
The IRS also will not threaten to have you arrested or deported if you don’t make payment. The IRS will also not threaten to contact the department of motor vehicles. George says, “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.”
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, don’t offer up any personal information including credit card numbers, account numbers and PINs. If you know that you do owe and you haven’t otherwise made payment arrangements, hang up and call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040.
If you don’t owe taxes, you can report the call by filling out the online “IRS Impersonation scam” form (found on TIGTA’s website) or call TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484. You can also file an online complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.
Provide as many details as you can remember but again, don’t try to engage the scammers. Leave that to the folks who do this for a living.