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IRS Warns Again of Pervasive Phone Scam

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The IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said they are continuing to hear from taxpayers who have received unsolicited calls from individuals demanding payment while fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS.

Based on the 90,000 complaints that TIGTA said it has received through its telephone hotline, to date, TIGTA has identified approximately 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million from the scams.

"There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a statement. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

In addition, the agency noted, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone; never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations; never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Potential phone scam victims may be told that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS or they are entitled to big refunds. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy, the IRS cautioned.

The scammers often use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves. Scammers may also be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.

Sometimes, scammers will “spoof” an IRS toll-free number that will show up on caller ID to make it appear that the IRS is calling when in fact it is not. Scammers sometimes will also send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

Victims may hear background noise of other calls being conducted in order to mimic a call site.
After threatening victims with jail time or the revocation of the taxpayer’s driver’s license, scammers may then hang up, but others working with the scammer will quickly call back pretending to be from the local police department or the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and the caller ID display will seem to support their claim.

The IRS advised taxpayers that if they receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what they should do:

• If they know they owe taxes or you think they might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1 (800) 829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.

• If the taxpayer knows they don’t owe taxes or has no reason to think they owe any taxes (for example, they have never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then they should call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1 (800) 366-4484.

• If they have been targeted by a scammer, they should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov, adding "IRS Telephone Scam" in the comments on the complaint.

Taxpayers should also be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS is encouraging taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS emphasized that it does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for Personal Identification Number codes, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.

For more information or to report a scam, visit www.irs.gov and type "scam" in the search box. More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the IRS’s Web site, IRS.gov.

Michael Cohn is the editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com.

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