If you’ve gotten a phone call from someone identifying themselves as being with the IRS, threatening a lawsuit or instructing you to make a payment of some kind to them, there’s a 99.99% chance it’s a scam.
The IRS does not call, tweet, text, or use Facebook, Instagram, social media, instant messages or smoke signals to communicate with a taxpayer who owes money to the U.S. Treasury. They send letters (remember those?) via the U.S. postal service. And if the matter is weighty enough, the letter will come certified.
“If you owe the IRS anything, they will send multiple letters and will often times place liens on your assets before calling,” says Don McGehee, a Ruston CPA.
“And they don't file lawsuits to collect unpaid taxes,” McGehee advised. “They don't have to.”
Earlier this year, the IRS announced that “phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as con artists threaten taxpayers with things like police arrest, deportation, and license revocation.”
And this phone scam thing has been going on for several years.
"If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don't pay immediately, it's a scam artist calling,” warned IRS Commissioner John Koskinen back in 2015. "The first IRS contact with taxpayers is usually through the mail. Taxpayers have rights, and this is not how we do business."
The IRS reports that scammers are able to falsify caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave "urgent" callback requests.
Typically, the scammers will target individuals they think will be easy prey, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English.
You can be sure it’s a scammer if anyone calls claiming to be the IRS and asking you to send a payment, even though you’ve never gotten a letter.
The IRS says it will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying
By the way, similar caution should be used concerning any emails you receive claiming to be from the IRS. They are not. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.
According to the IRS, taxpayers should not respond to any email that claims to be from the IRS or click on the links. Instead, they should forward the scam emails to the IRS at email@example.com.
A little common sense and a willingness to ask questions can go a long way towards avoiding scams such as this.