While the use of scams to defraud people of their money is an unfortunate constant in our society, the means of employing a confidence trick has evolved with the times. One of many scams that exists today involves a con artist pretending to be an employee of the IRS and telephoning his or her victim, tricking them into sending the con artist money. We briefly described this scam in an earlier blog post, but in this blog post, we will explore the IRS telephone scam in more detail.
Details of the IRS Telephone Scam
The actual scam specifics can vary, but the main idea is to scare or intimidate a victim into sending the caller money on the basis that the victim supposedly owes the IRS an unpaid tax debt. If the victim doesn’t immediately pay, the victim is threatened with arrest, deportation, property seizure and/or a lawsuit.
Apparently this scam works, with over $23 million paid out by thousands of victims since October of 2013. And those that don’t fall for the con get dangerously close to doing so. Here are some of the ways the telephone scam can appear legitimate:
- The caller will identify him or herself as an IRS or US Treasury official. They will provide a name and may even provide a badge number.
- During the call, the caller will play a white noise recording in the background in order to mimic the sound of a call center.
- When the call is received, the victim’s caller ID will appear to show that the call is originating from the IRS.
- If arrest is threatened, but the victim doesn’t agree to send immediate payment, a follow up call may be made from someone claiming to be from law enforcement. The victim’s caller ID will often appear to show that the call is originating from the local police department.
- The telephone call may be preceded by an official-looking e-mail or letter claiming the recipient owes the IRS money.
- The caller may have some basic personal information about the victim, such as the last four digits of his or her social security number.
- The victim is sometimes provided with a real IRS mailing address in order to send certain paperwork.
Signs the Call Is a Scam
Luckily, there are many signs that the call is not legitimate. Some of these characteristics include:
- The caller demands immediate payment. The IRS will not expect payment without first providing an opportunity for the taxpayer to contest the amount owed.
- The call will be the first time the victim is made aware of money they allegedly owe. The IRS will always make first contact by mail.
- The victim is asked to provide a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card or a money transfer. The IRS will provide multiple methods of paying any money owed.
- The caller asks for credit card information over the telephone. The IRS will never ask for payment information over the telephone.
- The victim is threatened with arrest if they don’t pay.
What You Can Do
If you have received one of these types of calls, the safest thing you can do is hang up. You can also report the call to the Tax Inspector General for Tax Administration or the Federal Trade Commission.