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IRS Impostor Scam

Some brazen scammers rip off unwary taxpayers by impersonating agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They’ll call and insist you have an unpaid tax bill and face arrest unless you pay up immediately.

And now there’s a “new twist,” according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in which scammers will send a text about a “tax rebate” or some other tax refund or benefit. “No matter what the text says,” the FTC warns, “it’s a scammer phishing for your information. And if you click on the link to claim “your refund,” you’re exposing yourself to identity theft or malware that the scammer could install on your phone.”

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Con artists have numerous ways to make the hoax seem convincing. They can trick a caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from an actual IRS office. They may even know part of the mark’s Social Security number.

One massive, years-long fraud scheme, eventually busted by federal authorities, saw call centers in India use information from data brokers to find potential targets, whom they contacted and scared into making payments to co-conspirators in the United States. Older Americans were among the prime targets. Two dozen U.S.-based participants have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years, according to the Justice Department.

How to tell if you’re the target of an IRS scam

The IRS says impostors are increasingly turning to robocalls to broaden their reach, with automated messages requesting a call back to resolve a supposed tax problem. Scammers also deploy phishing emails, often targeting college students, faculty and staff members with addresses ending in the domain name “.edu,” the IRS and FTC warn. The emails, with IRS logos and subject lines like “Tax Refund Payment,” link to a website that asks for personal data such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers to facilitate the “refund.”

How to Tell if You’re the Target of an IRS Scam

Warning signs 

  • You get contacted via phone call. The IRS communicates mostly through the mail, including in cases of delinquent taxes. The agency will generally make contact by phone or in person only after a taxpayer has received multiple written notices. 
  • The pretend IRS official demands immediate payment and threatens to call police and have you arrested — things the actual tax agency never does.
  • An email purporting to be from the IRS links to a website where you’re asked to provide personal and financial information to facilitate or calculate a tax refund.

Scam Tracking Map

No matter where you live, fraud is never far away. Report a scam or search for existing scams near you.



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How to protect yourself from this scam  

  • Hang up immediately if a caller claims to be from the IRS, unless you have reason to believe you really do owe taxes, such as prior written communication from the agency.
  • If you want to confirm your tax payment status, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
  • Forward any unsolicited emails in which someone claims to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department to Do not click on any links or open attachments. 
  • Ask for identification if you’re visited by someone claiming to be from the IRS. Actual employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” card and an HSPD-12 card, a standard ID for federal workers. An IRS employee will provide, on request, a dedicated agency phone number for you to verify the information on the card.
  • Know that the IRS will never send an email or text message asking for your information. It may say it’s the IRS on your caller ID, but scammers know how spoof the number of a real IRS office.
  • Be aware that if anyone asks you to pay a tax bill with a gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer, it’s a scam. Scammers prefer these methods because they’re difficult to trace and can be used almost anywhere.
  • If you’ve received a scam IRS call, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration immediately at 800-366-4484 or file a report online.