As long as there are telephones, there will be people trying to use them to steal money from others. And given the power and fear the IRS strikes into many Americans, it’s no wonder the many telephone scammers decide to use the IRS as the basis for their scams. The following is an explanation of some of these more common IRS telephone scams and what can be done to help you or others from falling victim to them.
Overview of the Different IRS Telephone Scheme
Although the exact details vary depending on who the scammer and victim are, there are a few common strategies used in IRS telephone schemes. One classic strategy involves calling a victim and telling them they owe money to the IRS. If the victim questions the scammer, the scammer threatens them with arrest, deportation or revocation of the victim’s driver’s license.
In another strategy, instead of saying the victim owes money to the IRS, the scam artist says the exact opposite. They tell the victim that they are due a refund from the IRS, but need the victim’s personal information to deliver the money. The immediate goal isn’t to steal money, but to steal the victim’s personal information. From there, the scammer can either steal the victim’s identity or use the personal information to steal money from the victim at a later time.
A more recent strategy is much easier to fall victim to. It starts with the scammer stealing the victim’s identity to file a fake a tax return. This fake tax return results in a sizable tax refund that is sent via direct deposit into the victim’s bank account. After the money arrives, the scammer contacts the victim by email or telephone pretending to be the IRS and demanding that part or all of the refund be “returned” to the scam artist.
This latest scam is a variation of an earlier scam where the scammer waits for the refund check to arrive in the victim’s mailbox. This newer method is easier for the scammer because instead of physically going to the victim’s mailbox, they can make a telephone call or send an email to steal the money. It also avoids having to deal with the extra step of cashing the check that’s made out to in the victim’s name.
Why the Scammers Are So Convincing
The scammers take several steps to come across as real IRS representatives over the telephone. They use made-up badge numbers and spoof the victim’s caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. Scammers may also do background research on an intended victim to make it appear they already have access to the victim’s tax information. For example, they might know the victim’s place of work or citizen status. Not only does this information make the scammer come across as more convincing, but it can be used to make threats, such as threatening to deport a taxpayer who is a non-US citizen.
Red Flags Indicating a Possible IRS Telephone Scams
If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS and does any of the following, there’s a very good chance they are a scammer.
- Demands immediate payment without giving an opportunity to file an appeal.
- Declares that payment must be made using a specific method, such as a gift card.
- Requesting that payment be sent or made out to an entity other than the United States Treasury.
- Makes threats involving arrest or deportation.
What to Do if You Receive a Scam Telephone Call
If you think you’ve just received a scam telephone call, you should report it to the Tax Inspector General for Tax Administration or Federal Trade Commission.