The largest ever phone fraud scam of Internal Revenue Service impersonators is underway this tax season, and thousands of victims have lost more than $1 million as a result of the scam, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration. TIGTA, which has received reports of over 20,000 of the fake IRS calls, is warning taxpayers to be on the alert.
The IRS first warned taxpayers of the pervasive phone scams in November and included them on its Dirty Dozen tax scam list for 2014. The scammers appeared to first target to recent immigrants, but the scam has spread to the general population, and has hit nearly every state.
The scammers make unsolicited calls to taxpayers claiming to be IRS officials. Then the scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license. Real IRS representatives will not make such threats, nor will they ask for debit card, money order, or bank account information over the phone.
The problem is the calls feel “real.” TIGTA says the scammers typically use common names, know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number, make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is actually calling, send bogus IRS e-mails to support the scam, and sometimes call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and caller ID again supports their claim.
TIGTA is asking taxpayers who don’t owe federal taxes who get a call like this to call and report the incident to their integrity hotline at 1-800-366-4484. If you do owe federal taxes and get a call like this, TIGTA says to hang up and call the IRS at its official number, 1-800-829-1040 (that’s 1040 like the form number for your federal tax return).
I haven’t gotten a call from an IRS impersonator but I’ve hung up on other scam calls—repeated calls offering a free Medical alert system and calls offering computer technical support. If you get suspicious calls like these, check out AARP’s new fraud alert map to see state and local law enforcement alerts and scams others have reported in your state (both types of calls I received were on the watch list); you can see what scams are circulating whether or not you sign up to receive fraud alerts.