A few months after last year’s tax day, my mom told me that she got a call from an abrasive IRS agent saying that my dad owed money on his taxes. This man called their home phone and demanded to speak to my father. He told her that they had not paid the government and that there would be officers at her door soon. What did my mom do? She hung up on him!
Somehow she knew that it was a tax scam.
A Fake IRS Tale
I’d heard this story before… Not too long before that my mother-in-law told me about a friend who received a similar call. The difference was that this person was (understandably) frightened by the fake IRS agent’s threats. She didn’t want her home taken away or to be arrested. So when the person on the phone offered a “settlement,” it seemed in her best interest to just pay it off immediately.
Fortunately, they called an accountant who set them straight.
And before that… The IRS puts out a list of the worst scams for the year. I can’t pin point when this particular one started, but this type of money-making scheme is quite popular. It’s so intrusive that it catches people off guard. They might have some reason to worry about their finances, their tax forms or their business. I can think of a ton of money-stealing situations off the top of my head that I have either read about or heard about from others. Some people had to deal with years of fighting to regain their stolen identity, while others transferred money that they will never get back. What’s important is that you know what your moves are: before, during and afterward.
Why do scams work?
So you get a call from someone who tells you threatens you as an official (police, FBI, IRS, etc) or reads your personal information back to you. They threaten you with your worst fears — debt, jail time, deportation. These people are good.
“But I’m smarter than that,” you might say. I believe you, I do, but these people SOUND pretty legit for several reasons:
- They say they’re from the IRS
- They give a name & IRS badge/ID
- They have an office number you can actually call back
- Your caller ID says “IRS office” or something similar
- You get a “follow-up” call from a different agent, department or agency (ex, a police officer)
- You get an email that supports the call
- It sounds like they’re calling from an office (background noise)
- They state your full name, social security number or other personal information
Just in case you missed it: THIS call is not from the IRS! Nor, will it ever be. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which is responsible for collecting taxes, will not call, text, or email you if there is a problem with your taxes. IRS agents will not knock on your door to chat, or do anything without letting you know by mail. Don’t take my word for it. This is straight from the IRS website:
The IRS will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail. The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
Remember your rights
Before you do anything, remember that there is no harm in verifying an official’s identity. Given the prevalence of this kind of tax scam, I would even call the IRS to check out a letter you received in the mail. I’d imagine that real officers or agents will recognize that you are trying to be safe. So do just that.
Do not share any personal information or meet anyone unless it is at a police station or a real IRS office. Call a police station or other relevant office to confirm whether or not there is a problem. Do not click on any email links or follow messages without verification. It’s as simple as that.
After receiving this type of call, you can do the following things:
- Report it to the IRS: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing
- Report identity theft if they use your SSN: http://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse/what-cant-oig-investigate/identity-theft
- Call your local police department if someone comes to your house, or if money is stolen
Though it might seem obvious to you, many people do get caught up in tax scams every single year, especially the elderly and those who don’t understand English well. In fact, these scumbags will target those people specifically. Let your friends, parents or grandparents know what to look out for and what their rights are.