This may be my last blog, because the police are arriving at any moment to whisk me to jail for not paying my taxes! At least that’s what someone who identified himself as an IRS representative recently informed me when he called my office. Luckily, I can avoid this horrible fate if I rush out and buy iTunes cards and provide their codes to the caller.
It’s easy to laugh at this experience, but unfortunately scams such as this are working, with crooks devising new and more convincing tactics as the public becomes savvier. (Click here for the IRS’s list of popular scams to avoid.) And guess what age group is most likely to fall for fake IRS phone calls? Yes, the elderly population is constantly being warned to be cautious, but it’s actually millennials who are most often the victim of this sort of financial fraud!
The IRS warns the newest phone scam has criminals spoofing an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) number so the call appears to be coming from a legitimate IRS representative. When the potential victim questions the validity of the call they are instructed to look up the local TAC number. With the caller now “verified,” the victim is instructed to make an immediate payment, often in the form of iTunes or debit cards.
With the increasing sophistication of the scams, how can taxpayers protect themselves from becoming a victim? First, it’s important to know that the IRS initiates contact with taxpayers through the U.S. mail. If you receive a phone call or email claiming to be from the IRS and you are not involved in an ongoing correspondence with the agency, it’s safe to assume it’s a scam and to hang up the phone or ignore the email. Never give any personal information to callers or emailers.
Second, recall our recent blog on ways to pay the IRS. While checks, credit cards, and bank transfers are all accepted, iTunes and other gift cards are not! Credit or debit card transactions are handled on sites accessed through the IRS website; representatives don’t contact you to ask for your card number. Checks and money orders are always made out to the U.S. Treasury, never to a third party.
The call to our office warned the police were on the way. The IRS does not threaten anyone with immediate imprisonment or use other scare tactics. Normal taxpayers don’t get arrested for owing the IRS. (Al Capone types are a different story!) While wages can be garnished and even bank accounts seized, both of these actions come at the end of a very long, detailed process that begins with a letter in the mail.
The IRS does not demand payment without giving the taxpayer an explanation of the assessment and ample opportunity to ask questions, clarify the situation, and even appeal the charges. The IRS does not call and leave threatening messages. I knew our call was a scam, so I listened in order to hear just what these calls involve. However, the best action is simply to hang up immediately.
We read articles like this and think that we could never be fooled, yet many people are victimized every day. Some fall for the hoaxes because they know they actually do owe the IRS. Our first blog post discussed common IRS letters and how you should respond to them; never ignore these letters, but pay no attention to phone calls and emails trying to steal your money. Rest assured that if you ever get any communication purporting to be from the IRS and you aren’t sure of it’s validity, we’re here to help. Give us a call!