Nearly $12.5M was lost to government impersonation scams in 2017
What Is It?
One of the largest schemes affecting senior Americans today, the IRS impersonation scam has defrauded around 2.1 million U.S. citizens to date, and continues to be one of the most reported scams in the nation.
While there are many versions of the scheme, criminals posing as IRS officials generally call victims over the phone and demand immediate payment for allegedly unpaid taxes or penalties – often threatening arrest, foreclosure, or other adverse legal action.
Victims are usually instructed to pay using a certified check, credit card, electronic wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card. After payment, targets are often told that they must pay additional sums to resolve further discrepancies. This process can be repeated multiple times; as long as a target remains convinced, further demands will be made.
Criminal tactics have evolved in recent years in response to updated IRS policies. Reports show that fraud artists now claim that they are following up on letters previously sent by the IRS, or demanding payment in the form of iTunes gift cards. In another variation, callers request financial information under the guise of issuing a refund.
Criminals take a number of steps to disguise their location and legitimize the appearance of their call. Caller-ID spoofing is a tactic used to disguise genuine telephone numbers and make it appear as if a call originates from a certain organization. Scammers typically spoof a ‘202’ area code – the code for Washington, DC.
Scammers have also “spoofed” their phone numbers to make it appear as though they are calling from local law enforcement agencies. To unsuspecting victims, this can make it seem as if the “Internal Revenue Service” or the name of the local police department is appearing on their caller ID.
How Can I Protect Myself?
The IRS released the following tips to help taxpayers identify suspicious calls that may be associated with the imposter scam:
- Do they insist you need to pay immediately? The IRS will never call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill to the taxpayer.
- Will they let you check their identity before you pay? The IRS will never demand that a taxpayer pay a sum without giving him or her the opportunity to verify the identity of the caller. Real IRS representatives will be happy to verify their identities, and can tell you their badge number so you can check their employment. They will let you contact them through an alternate method in order to verify that the debt is real before they take your payment.
- How do they want you to pay? The IRS will never ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone. Instead, they will ask you to pay through their official payment processing center, or with a check. If someone asks you to pay with a wire transfer, a prepaid debit or gift card, or a Green Dot Moneypak, that’s a scam.
- Are They Using Scare Tactics? The IRS will never threaten to send local police or other law enforcement to have a taxpayer arrested. Many victims describe IRS scam callers as rude, threatening and abusive; real IRS representatives do not use these tactics.
- If you received a letter, does it look suspicious? IRS notices come with a certified reference number, and are likely to be free of spelling and grammatical errors. You can look up the reference number online to make sure the document is legitimate, or call the IRS directly if you have any questions. Only return the form to the official listed address of the processing center.
What Can I Do If I’ve Been Targeted?
If you’ve been contacted – by phone, post, or email – and are still unsure, call the IRS back at their main official number. Here, you can ask an official representative to help you find out if you owe taxes, and, if you do, what your payment options are. You can contact them directly at 1-800-829-1040.
An unexpected phone call from someone threatening you with arrest or deportation if you fail to pay immediately is a scam. Report these calls and other IRS impersonation schemes to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 or online at IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting. You can also contact the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.
File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through their Complaint Assistant to make the information available to investigators.
All official IRS payment options are listed at https://www.irs.gov/payments. If you are being encouraged to use a payment method that is not listed there, it’s most likely a scam.
An unexpected email purporting to be from the IRS is always a scam. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media to request personal or financial information. Report all unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS online or by email to email@example.com.
Please refer to Contact the IRS if you have a tax question not related to phishing or identity theft.
Remember, never give out any information or money based on a phone call unless you know and trust the person.