No one likes to hear from the IRS; notices are written in hard to decipher jargon and an IRS communication rarely conveys good news. What if the IRS calls you? What then?
First and foremost, don’t fall for it. It’s a scam. The IRS never initiates communication over the phone. If the IRS needs to get in touch with you, they’ll send a letter.
At the same time, if you get one of these phone calls during a busy day, you’ll get caught off-guard. Chances are, you’ll get one of these calls during peak tax season or shortly beforehand when you might be a little on edge in the first place, especially if you end up owing a sizable tax debt. A typical call might follow this pattern:
- You receive a phone call from an IRS agent, advising you that you owe the agency a past due tax debt and will demand immediate payment by credit or debit card.
- If you refuse to cave in, the caller becomes more aggressive. They’ll threaten to call the police, stating you’ll be arrested and jailed for refusing to pay.
- You’ll be threatened with suspension of your driver’s license or if you’re an undocumented person or recent immigrant, they’ll threaten you with deportation.
- You’ll be told you’ll lose your home and other important assets if you don’t pay.
At the same time, you’ll think the call is legitimate because the caller can:
- Provide a last name and badge number
- State the last four digits of your social security number
You’ll hear sounds in the background that are similar to a busy office or call center, and your caller I.D. will reflect either the local law enforcement number or IRS phone number. Don’t fall for it: scammers will spoof authentic phone numbers in order to catch you off guard and lead you to believe that despite your gut instincts, the call is real.
You might even get an email shortly after you receive one of these calls, complete with IRS insignia. Don’t open it. It can contain malware that can compromise your computer or mobile device if opened. It’s also a phishing attempt, in which scammers gather sensitive data by asking you to provide bank account information or credit/debit card information.
These scammers target older adults and recent immigrants. You may not fall for this scam, but your parents or relatives might. Make sure they’re aware of this common scam, which has cost taxpayers millions of dollars over the years.
Authentic IRS Communications
If the IRS needs to contact you, they will send a letter via first-class mail or certified mail. They will never call or email you regarding your account. The letter will have a code that indicates its purpose: a CP501 letter, for example, indicates the agency suspects your identity information has been compromised and they are requesting that you verify your address and other pertinent details.
If you receive an IRS letter and are still suspicious, you can call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. They’ll be able to confirm that they sent the letter. They will never ask for sensitive information over the phone.
Rip-off artists and scammers look for easy targets: older adults, recent immigrants, and busy people who are too rushed and stressed to ask key questions before providing sensitive information regarding their finances or bank accounts. Once thieves have that information, they can wreck havoc with your finances.
Remember that if the IRS is initiating communications with you, it will be done via letter sent by first-class or certified mail. They will never call or email you when they first make contact.
Don’t get caught off guard. By learning how rip-off artists commonly reach their targets, you can avoid becoming a victim of one of the most costly consumer scams in recent years. Knowledge is your best defense.