By Jason Bramwell
A phone scam in which taxpayers, especially recent immigrants, are told they owe money to the IRS and are threatened with arrest or deportation if they don't pay up has been occurring lately in nearly every state in the country, the IRS warned on October 31.
"We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves", IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel said in a written statement.
Victims are told by scammers who are impersonating IRS agents that they must pay the IRS promptly through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer. If they refuse to cooperate, the scammers often become hostile and insulting, threatening to send the victims to prison, to deport them, or to suspend their business or driver's license.
A recent incident was reported in Fishers, Indiana, when a resident was told by a supposed IRS agent that he'd filed his taxes incorrectly for the last ten years, and a warrant would be issued for his arrest if he didn't pay a penalty. The man was then instructed by the scammer to go to a grocery store and get a tax voucher to send money to the IRS for the penalty.
"Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a prepaid debit card or wire transfer", said Werfel, who added that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue will usually occur via mail. "If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation, or license revocation if you don't pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn't the IRS calling."
According to the IRS, taxpayers should be aware of the following characteristics of the phone scam:
- Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
- Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim's Social Security number.
- Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that the IRS is calling.
- Scammers sometimes send fake IRS e-mails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
- Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
- After being threatened with jail time or driver's license revocation, victims will receive additional phone calls from scammers pretending to be from the local police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID supports their claim.
Taxpayers should also be aware of other unrelated scams, such as a lottery sweepstakes and solicitations for debt relief, that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
The agency reiterated that it doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers via e-mail to request personal or financial information. "This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels", the IRS stated. "The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords, or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank, or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to [email protected]."