The April filing deadline is long gone, but that doesn’t stop scammers from attempting to swindle American taxpayers out of their hard-earned money. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service is asking taxpayers to be on the alert to two new phishing and email scams.
The scams are variations of previous tax-related schemes. One involves Social Security numbers related to tax issues; another threatens people with a tax bill from a fictional federal agency. The IRS provides these details:
- The SSN hustle. The latest twist includes scammers claiming to be able to suspend or cancel the victim’s Social Security number. In this variation, the Social Security cancellation threat scam is similar to and often associated with the IRS impersonation scam. It is yet another attempt by con artists to frighten people into returning ‘robocall’ voicemails. Scammers may mention overdue taxes in addition to threatening to cancel the person’s SSN.
- Fake tax agency. This scheme involves the mailing of a letter threatening an IRS lien or levy. The lien or levy is based on bogus delinquent taxes owed to a non-existent agency, “Bureau of Tax Enforcement.” There is no such agency. The lien notification scam also likely references the IRS to confuse potential victims into thinking the letter is from a legitimate organization.
The IRS and its Security Summit partners – state taxing agencies, tax industry leaders and others – remind taxpayers to stay alert for scams claiming to be the IRS or collecting tax bills that may be non-existent. These scams proliferate in late spring and early summer as tax bills and refunds arrive.
Phones and Phishing
These new scams use two different vehicles to carry out the charade, but the results can be similar. One uses the telephone to threaten a taxpayer. But this carries the red flags to alert would-be victims that this is a scam.
The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent or threatening messages. In many variations of the phone scam, victims are told if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Other verbal threats include law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation or revocation of licenses.
Criminals can fake or “spoof” caller ID numbers to appear to be anywhere in the country, including from an IRS office. This prevents taxpayers from being able to verify the true call number. Fraudsters also have spoofed local sheriff’s offices, state departments of motor vehicles, federal agencies and others to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.
The second scam uses a letter in order to fool the taxpayer into thinking they are responding to an official communication from a (nonexistent) federal agency. Most phishing scams use email to carry out their deception. Here again, it helps to know what behavior the real IRS will not employ when there are taxes owed.
The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. However, there are special circumstances when the IRS will call or come to a home or business. These visits include times when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or the IRS needs to tour a business as part of a civil investigation (such as an audit or collection case) or during a criminal investigation.
How to Know It’s a Scam
The IRS (and any authorized third party employed to make collections) will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
If a taxpayer doesn’t owe taxes, and has no reason to think they do:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page.
- Report the caller ID and/or callback number to the IRS by sending it to email@example.com (Subject: IRS Phone Scam).
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
Taxpayers who owe taxes or think they may should:
- View tax account information online at IRS.gov to see the actual amount owed. Taxpayers can then also review their payment options.
- Call the number on the billing notice, or
- Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help.
If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS that is fraudulent, report it by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the IRS’ Report Phishing and Online Scams page for complete details.