Beware New IRS Phone Scam
By Blake King, CPA, MAcc, CVA
“Hello, this is Agent Smith with the IRS, ID number 74930. You owe delinquent taxes and must pay immediately. Give us your bank or credit card information or we will send you to jail.”
If you get a phone call that sounds like this, hang up immediately because it’s a scam. Unfortunately, too many taxpayers learn this after they have given the caller access to their bank accounts or credit card information. The scenario outlined above topped the IRS “Dirty Dozen” list in 2016. The “Dirty Dozen” is a list published annually by the IRS that details recent tax scams and cons. The IRS recently released an updated bulletin to warn taxpayers about these types of ploys. The agency outlines several ways to distinguish between a real IRS agent and an imposter.
“We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen states in the bulletin. All genuine IRS communications begin with a letter to the taxpayer, so a phone call out of the blue is an immediate indication that the IRS isn’t actually involved.
Below is a list of five things the IRS will never do:
Call to demand immediate payment, or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a physical bill.
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.
Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Threaten to involve local police or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying taxes owed.
If you do receive one of these phone calls, hang up and contact your tax professional immediately. They will be able to help you contact the IRS and confirm its authenticity. They can also verify whether you have any outstanding liability. You may also contact the IRS directly by taking one of the steps below:
Contact TIGTA to report the suspicious call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting site or call 800-366-4484.
Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission by visiting FTC.gov and clicking “File a Consumer Complaint.” Include the remark “IRS telephone scam” in the notes.
If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
Note: It’s important not to be intimidated by the scammers as they will try any tactic to separate you from your money. Various scammers have been known to target the elderly and immigrants who have a limited understanding of our tax system. Younger taxpayers and students in particular are a new target, Commissioner Koskinen says. “These scams and schemes continue to evolve nationwide, and now they’re trying to trick students.”
One of the most recent iterations of the scheme is targeting students by telling them they owe a “student tax.” These particular scammers request that students pay with a prepaid debit card or iTunes gift card. The IRS will never request any such payment method. There is no “student tax.”
Another recent tactic involves targeting human resources professionals. The HR specialist will receive an email that looks like it came from their boss, asking for personal employee information such as W-2 forms, Social Security Numbers, or home addresses. The scammer will then use the information to steal employees’ identities. Below are sample scam emails taken from an IRS bulletin:
“Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.”
“Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).”
“I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2015, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me ASAP.”
No matter what the scam, the best response is to protect your personal information. If anyone purporting to be from the IRS contacts you with a request for information, investigate it before providing anything. You can never be too careful when it comes to your personal information.
— Blake King, CPA, MAcc, CVA (firstname.lastname@example.org). The author is a Partner and Director of Accounting at DoctorsManagement.