Call From the I.R.S.? Hang Up. It’s a Fraud
Con artists continue to use traditional means to try to separate taxpayers from their money,
like harassing them on the telephone.
The Internal Revenue Service has posted repeated warnings about tax phone frauds, in which
criminals call consumers pretending to be agents from the I.R.S. The impostors claim the
taxpayer owes back taxes, then threaten arrest or legal action, unless the individual makes a
payment quickly. Sometimes victims are urged to wire money, but more commonly they are
directed to obtain a prepaid money card at a retailer and provide the number to the caller.
The Federal Trade Commission, which investigates consumer fraud, says complaints about
I.R.S. impostor fraud have spiked over the last year.
“The callers are aggressive, they are relentless and they are ruthless,” said J. Russell
George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration, in a statement. His office, which
oversees the I.R.S., said it had received reports of about 290,000 calls since October 2013,
and nearly 3,000 victims had been cheated out of more than $14 million.
Garrett Gregory, a former senior lawyer with the I.R.S. who now has a tax practice in Dallas,
said the calls were pervasive and that his office heard once or twice a week from clients who
were concerned about getting such calls. Most people know to “laugh and hang up,” [you do,
don't you?] he said, but the calls still can be unnerving. His own father received such a call a
month ago, he said.
The crooks aren’t particularly discriminating in their choice of targets: The Connecticut state
tax commissioner received a call this month, according to a report in The Hartford Courant.
And a lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission wrote this month on the agency’s blog that
she had received such a call on her home answering machine. “Hello, we have been trying to
reach you,” the message said. “This call is officially a final notice from the I.R.S., Internal
Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that I.R.S. is filing a lawsuit against
The callers strive to appear authentic; they may use robocalling technology that shows “I.R.S.”
on your caller identification screen. They may know part or all of your Social Security number
and they may provide a fake I.R.S. “badge” number. In some cases, follow-up calls may come,
supposedly from local police or prosecutors.
But the telephone call itself, experts say, is the first tipoff that the call is bogus. The I.R.S.
does not initiate contact through phone or email, but rather sends written correspondence
through the United States mail. “The I.R.S. does not call people,” Mr. Gregory said.
Here are some questions about tax fraud schemes:
■ What should I do if a caller says they are with the I.R.S?
Don’t provide any personal information and don’t engage with the caller (other than, perhaps,
to ask their name, the F.T.C. advises, so you can include it in a complaint). Then, hang up.
You can report the incident to the Treasury inspector general for tax administration by filling
out an online form.
When you file the complaint, you will be asked to choose a five-digit PIN. If you are contacted
about the incident, you should ask for the PIN, so you can be sure you are speaking to a
You can also file a complaint with the F.T.C. on its website.
■ What should I do if I get an email that indicates it is from the I.R.S.?
The agency says it generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, so such
messages are most likely “phishing” attempts to try to obtain sensitive information, like user
names and passwords. (This month, for instance, the agency warned of “bogus” emails asking
tax professionals to update information like their electronic filing identification numbers.) Don’t
respond to such email or click on any attachments, the agency advises. Rather, forward it to
firstname.lastname@example.org, then delete it.
■ What if I think I may actually owe taxes?
If you are concerned, you should contact the I.R.S. directly at 800-829-1040.