5 Warning Signs of a Scam IRS Phone Call

scam phone call

What do Nigerian Princes and the IRS have in common? They are both favored disguises for scammers looking to rip-off unsuspecting Americans, especially senior citizens.

Typical Approaches of Scammers

Tax hustlers most often use the telephone and typically take one of two approaches. They usually play on fear, telling the victim he owes back taxes and must pay up immediately to avoid dire consequences. In other cases, they claim the target is owed a significant refund and must provide confidential bank account info to enable a transfer to her account. The callers are often well prepared with some background information about the target, an IRS “employee number” and even a bogus caller ID that reads “IRS.”

The IRS can be very aggressive in attempting to collect its pound of flesh, but it’s held to some pretty strict rules. The agency hates these scammers and works hard to educate the public on how to know the difference between a bogus and real IRS communication.

"There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Signs of a Scam Phone Call

Here are five ways to immediately recognize a fake IRS call:

  1. Demands immediate payment. The IRS does not make phone calls seeking immediate payment of taxes. In fact, the agency never calls a taxpayer before first sending a letter explaining the issue and your apparent liability. (Yes, those letters are sometimes incomprehensible, but they do send them.)
  2. Threatens to have you arrested. The IRS certainly has the ability to force you to pay-up, but they don’t summon the cops to your house over an unpaid tax bill. 
  3. Asks for debit or credit card numbers over the phone. Nope. The IRS never does that.
  4. Demands that “taxes” be paid via a specific method, such as a prepaid debit card. Again, this is not IRS practice or policy.
  5. Denies an appeal. Taxpayers have the absolute right to discuss and appeal any tax bill, no matter how big or small. The details of that process are often included in the letter you would receive from the IRS before getting a phone call from the agency.

Apply these same tests to any “IRS” communication you might receive via email, text or social media. The real IRS does not use those platforms to communicate with individuals about their personal tax issues.

If You Get a Bogus IRS Call 

If you get a call making one of these demands, do not under any circumstances make a payment or provide bank account info. Instead, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. They can tell you if you have a tax liability and work with you to resolve it.

Dealing with the real IRS may not be fun but, in this case, they are on your side. It might be the one time they help you to keep your money.