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FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

IRS Impostor Scam

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

From October 2013 through March 2021, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration logged more than 2.5 million reports of scam calls from IRS impersonators, with some 16,000 victims collectively losing more than $82.6 million. 

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.

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One massive, years-long fraud scheme, eventually busted by federal authorities, saw call centers in India use information from data brokers to find potential marks, 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.

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 .edu addresses, the IRS and Federal Trade Commission 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 

  • It’s a phone call. The IRS communicates mostly through the mail, including in cases of delinquent taxes. It 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.

Do's

  • Do 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.
  • Do forward any unsolicited emails in which someone claims to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department to phishing@irs.gov. Do not click on any links or open attachments. 
  • Do consider filing a fraud alert or freezing your credit with the three major credit-reporting bureaus if a scammer knows part of your Social Security number.
  • Do ask for identification if you’re visited by someone claiming to be from the IRS. Actual employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” 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.

Don'ts

  • Don’t provide or confirm personal or financial information over the phone to someone who claims to be a government official. 
  • Don’t respond to a purported IRS email or text message asking for your information. The IRS doesn’t do that. 
  • Don’t agree to pay a tax bill with a gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers prefer these methods because they're difficult to trace and can be used almost anywhere.
  • Don’t give credit or debit card numbers to a caller claiming to be an IRS official. The IRS says it never asks for such information over the phone.
  • Don’t assume a caller who tells you to verify his or her phone number by checking the IRS website is on the level. Caller IDs can be rigged to display the number of a real IRS office.
  • Don't be bullied. A scammer will issue threats and demands, but according to the IRS, if you actually owe back taxes, you will get a bill in the mail and have an opportunity to appeal or to question the amount. 

More Resources

  • To find out if you genuinely do owe taxes, call the IRS help line for individuals: 800-829-1040.
  • 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.

Updated August 20, 2021

About the Fraud Watch Network

Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.

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