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FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER

IRS Impostor Scam

Some brazen scammers rip off unwary taxpayers by impersonating agents of the Internal Revenue Service. They’ll call and insist that a potential victim has an unpaid tax bill and faces arrest unless they pay up, immediately. 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, and they may even know part of the mark’s Social Security number.

In a recent three-year period, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration received reports of more than 1.6 million calls from IRS impersonators, with more than 8,600 victims collectively losing almost $47 million. One massive, long-running fraud scheme, eventually busted by federal authorities, saw call centers in India use information from data brokers to find potential victims, whom they contacted and scared into making payments via reloadable gift cards or wire transfers to co-conspirators in the United States. Older Americans were among the prime targets. 

The IRS says scammers are increasingly turning to robocalls to reach as many potential victims as possible. Their ruses have become more elaborate, with some citing a nonexistent “federal student tax” that they claim their targets have neglected to pay. But you can deter the phony tax collectors by following some basic precautions.

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 IRS says it never does. 

Do's

  • Do hang up immediately, unless you have reason to think you actually owe taxes.
  • 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 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. 

AARP Fraud Watch Network

Fight back against frauds and scams! Call our free Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. You can also sign up for Watchdog Alerts and check out our scam-tracking map.

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.

Published: Dec. 3, 2018

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