IRS warns taxpayers of scam

Published 8:13 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

The Internal Revenue Service has sent out a warning to taxpayers: beware of a sophisticated new scam.

“The scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country. We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer, ” wrote IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel in an email. “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, victims of the scam are told by a caller that they owe back taxes and then are prompted to pay the back taxes immediately, via a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If a victim refuses to comply, that’s when the scammers resort to threats: jail time, revocation of driver’s licenses, even deportation for some.

What’s unusual is that caller ID will display the phone call originating from the IRS’ toll free number, and if the scam progresses far enough, another threatening phone call from a supposed local law enforcement agency may very well look as if it originates from the actual law enforcement agency.

According to Mark Hanson, IRS media-relations director for North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, all taxpayers are potential victims.

“The IRS finds that many of those targeted are recent immigrants to the U.S., however, the scam is not exclusive to that group,” Hanson wrote in an email.

Another factor is that callers will sometimes provide the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number, a feat that also lends validity to the phone calls.

When asked, Hanson said he had no knowledge as to how, specifically, the scam artists obtain the information they are using.

While some victims have reported that the callers have accents, Hanson said he’d be hesitant to list that as an identifying factor for this scam.

“Rather than focusing as much on accents and language, I think the tactics are the dead giveaway that this is not legit,” Hanson said. “The threats — IRS isn’t going to threaten your driver’s license. We don’t have jurisdiction for that, for one, and two, it’s just not the way we do business. … Fact is, the IRS doesn’t make these calls period.”

When the IRS contacts a taxpayer regarding a legitimate tax issue, it almost always occurs via mail, Hanson said.

“Taxpayers should be on alert,” Hanson said. “We’ve seen this problem for a few months and it’s not going away. We don’t want to see people become victims of identity theft or worse.”

Hanson said that anyone who has received phone calls of this type should contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 to report the call, or to simply verify whether or not the IRS has a legitimate reason to contact them.


Signs of an IRS scam in the making:

  • Scammers generally use common first and last names to identify themselves, along with fake IRS badge numbers.
  • They may be able to give the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • They spook the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that the IRS is calling.
  • Scammers sometimes will send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims may hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back, pretending to be from the local police or DMV and the caller ID supports their claim.