How to Spot a Tax-Scam Call

Know who never seems to take a holiday? Scammers pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service. Don’t become the next victim; here’s what to know to protect yourself.

In these aggressive scams, callers claiming to be from the IRS may demand money, or may say you’re due a refund and try to trick you into sharing private information. Sometimes they already have bits of that information – such as the last four digits of your Social Security number – and usually alter the caller ID to try to make you believe they are in fact from the IRS.

Among other tactics, bogus emails sometimes follow the calls, and victims report hearing background noise that mimics that of a call site. Scammers often use bogus IRS identification badge numbers and of course fake names. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request or phone you back with a new strategy.

Recently, taxpayers reported that scammers frequently target immigrants, potential victims threatened with deportation, arrest, shutting off utilities or revoking driver’s licenses. The IRS says that callers are frequently insulting or hostile, sometimes following up with calls pretending to be from the police or local department of motor vehicles, with the caller ID again supporting their claim.

Other unrelated scams, such as a lottery sweepstakes and phony solicitations for debt relief, also fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

Here are five things scammers often do but the IRS never does. Any one is a telltale sign. The IRS never:

  1. Calls to demand immediate payment or call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.
  2. Demands that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount the agency says you owe.
  3. Requires you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  4. Asks for your credit card or debit card numbers over the phone.
  5. Threatens to involve your local police or other law-enforcement to arrest you for not paying taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service Building is shown July 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. Due to current shortfalls in the federal budget, all Internal Revenue Service operations are closed today, with another furlough day scheduled for next month. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Internal Revenue Service Building is shown July 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. Due to current shortfalls in the federal budget, all Internal Revenue Service operations are closed today, with another furlough day scheduled for next month. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In addition, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages, or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 or at the TIGTA complaint contact page.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you believe you do owe taxes, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. The employees there can help with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

If you receive an email you suspect comes from scammers, do not open any attachments or click on any links in the message but instead forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. A new IRS YouTube video also warns about scams.

And again remember: Give no personal information to strangers over the phone. The con artists are only impersonating the IRS and, unfortunately, can be very convincing.

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Written by Maureen Crimmins, who is the co-founder of Crimmins Wealth Management LLC in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Her websites are www.CrimminsWM.com and www.RootsofWealth.com.

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