IRS Tips On How to Spot Phone Scams

Learn how to spot scammers and what to do if someone calls claiming to be from the IRS.

The phone rings and when you pick up a recorded voice says something like the following: “This is Fernando Hernandez. I work with the IRS and our records show that you owe XXX dollars in back taxes. Unless you pay us immediately, you could go to jail and lose your house.”

Hang up the phone. The call is scam.

Tens of thousands of Americans have been receiving fake IRS collection calls demanding money or seeking private financial information. Some of the con artists making these calls are quite sophisticated. Some use altered caller IDs to make it look like they’re calling from the IRS or other government agencies. They use fake names and often have bogus IRS badge numbers. They may even know the last four numbers of your Social Security number.

The scammers may use either a carrot or stick approach. For example, they may make threats that you’ll go to jail or have your driver’s license revoked if you don’t pay. They then hang up and have others call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV. Alternatively, the caller may say you’re due a tax refund and ask for your bank account number so it can be deposited to your account.

The IRS says there are five easy ways to spot a scam phone call. The IRS will never:

  • call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official IRS notice
  • demand that you pay taxes without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount they say you owe
  • require you to use a certain payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card
  • ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or
  • threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying.

Remember, the IRS will never call you without first sending you one or more notices in the mail. Nor does the IRS send unsolicited email, text messages, or communication by any social media to taxpayers to discuss their tax issues.

If you get a scam phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or your personal financial information, here’s what the IRS says you should do:

  • First, hang up the phone without giving the caller any information.
  • If you owe the IRS taxes, or think you might owe, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to talk about setting up a payment plan. You may even be able to set up a plan online at IRS.gov, using their Online Payment Agreement Application.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes, report the call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or report the incident online.
  • If phone scammers target you, also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report the scam. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

You can find information about all types of phone scams at www.scamcallfighters.com.

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