The phone rings. You see a number that you don’t recognize, but pick up the call anyway. An agent claiming to be from the IRS says that you owe back taxes and threatens to arrest you or file a law suit against you if you don’t make an immediate payment over the phone. Thousands of Americans faced this exact situation in 2016. This is a prime example of an IRS scam.
This scam is responsible for collecting nearly $150,000 a day from tax payers. Thieves were from Mumbai, India, where police helped to shut down these call centers. Other scams involve emails where you are promised a large refund after you prepay the tax on the refund simply to have the agent and your money disappear. So how can you protect yourself?
There are a few guidelines that you can follow to help prevent you from becoming victim to the ever-increasing amount of scams thieves are using to steal your identity and money.
- Paper notice in the mail. Contact from the IRS will always be first made through the US Postal Service. If you do get a letter from the IRS it will have a form or notice number that is searchable on the IRS website, www.irs.gov. Compare what you have received with what the website says. If you still are suspicious call the IRS help desk 1-800-829-1040 and question the information you have received.
- No digital communication. The IRS will NEVER initiate contact to you over email, text message, social media or other means of digital communication. If you do get an email claiming to be from the IRS, do not click on any links or open any attachments and forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Never pay over the phone. An IRS agent will NEVER make a call to demand immediate payment of a bill or ask you to make a payment by credit or debit card over the phone. If you are suspicious of the person on the other end of the line, ask for the employee’s name, badge number and phone number. A real IRS agent will not hesitate to give you this information. Once you have this, politely end the phone call and call the IRS at 1-800-366-4484 to confirm the identity of the person you were talking to.
Remember that the government will never demand an immediate payment over the phone or by email. There will always be a paper trail with the IRS and they are never threatening. If you do receive one of these phone calls or emails don’t panic, take a breath and remember that the IRS does not operate in that manner, that it is a scam. If you feel the need to verify that it wasn’t the IRS call the help desk and allow them to verify that you are doing everything correctly! Be vigilant. Protect your identity and your money.