Tax season may be over for most taxpayers, but when it comes to identity theft, scammers are still hard at work. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning taxpayers about a “new twist on an old phone scam.” In the scam, thieves use telephone numbers that look like IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) office numbers to trick taxpayers into paying fake tax bills. Here’s what you need to know.
In the latest version of the phone scam, criminals purporting to be from your local IRS TAC office are making calls demanding tax payments. Your caller ID may even display a TAC number during the call since the scammers have programmed their computers to display the TAC telephone number. If you question whether the call is legitimate, the crooks will advise you to double-check the local TAC number with the IRS.gov website. Then the scammers call you back and demand payment again, usually by debit card.
Like most big agencies, the IRS has a division of labor. Collection efforts typically stem from – you guessed it – the Collections Department and involve a series of notices sent by U.S. Mail (for more info, check out IRS Pub 594, The Collections Process, which downloads as a PDF). Your first contact from collections will not begin with a phone call.
TAC offices do not make calls to taxpayers to demand payment of outstanding tax bills. Rather, TAC offices offer in-person help for taxpayers. Some TAC offices also offer in-person document review for form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (downloads as a PDF). All TAC offices operate by appointment only (find one near you here).
The calls are being spoofed, meaning that the scammers have changed the caller ID to make it look like they are calling from an IRS TAC office. Don’t be fooled. Scammers also have spoofed local police offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles, immigration agencies and other federal agencies in an effort to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate. Spoofing also happens in emails: Thieves will tamper with the “from” line in scam emails to make you believe that the email is from the IRS or other agency.
Use care. Don’t engage with scammers or thieves, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam, or you think that you can best them. Just hang up.
If you feel like you’ve heard these warnings before, you’re not wrong: The IRS still says that phone scams are “a major threat to taxpayers.” In 2018, phone scams held down the top spot on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports they have become aware of over 12,716 victims who have collectively paid over $63 million as a result of phone scams since October 2013.
Don’t be a victim. Remember that the IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Again, don’t engage or respond with scammers. Here’s what to do if you receive a suspicious phone call or message:
- If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t engage with the scammer and do not give out any information. Just hang up.
- If you receive a telephone message from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and you do not owe tax, or if you are immediately aware that it’s a scam, don’t call them back.
- If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS directly at 1.800.829.1040 to discuss your specific situation.
- You can also contact Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to report scam calls by calling 1.800.366.4484 or by using the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” form on their website. You may also want to report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report persons pretending to be from the government: Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe by remaining alert. When in doubt, assume it’s a scam.