We’ve received several calls lately from individuals saying they have been contacted by the IRS and they owe money. Before we get into how to tell the difference between scam artists posing as the IRS and the actual IRS, can we just say, we don’t fault anyone for falling for this! A government agency calling, saying you owe them money is about as intimidating as it gets. On top of that, the callers pretending to be IRS agents are presenting this as an extremely urgent matter, threatening jail or legal action if they don’t pay what’s owed immediately. Naturally, the individuals contacting us are very concerned to say the least.

The purpose of this blog post is to help you identify the difference between a fake and a real call from the IRS. Which leads us to point number one.

1) The IRS will not call you without first mailing you

If you owe on your taxes, the IRS will notify you by mail first and allow you time to pay it. Only if you go MIA will they attempt to call you. However, they will not threaten you like the phone scammers do. That leads us to point #2.

2) The IRS will not demand that you pay taxes without first allowing you to question or appeal the amount you owe.

The phone scammers make you feel like you have no choice but to fork out the amount they say you owe immediately or suffer big consequences. The IRS will not come across with such urgency as this.

3) The IRS will not require that you pay your taxes a certain way (wire transfer, debit card, bank account, etc.)

The IRS doesn’t care how they get paid. If you owe them, you can mail in a check. You will not be required to pay a certain way. The phone scammers try and make you hand over your bank account info, or a wire transfer, debit card, etc. They are thieves trying to steal from you and will insist on you paying in a way in which your personal information is compromised.

4) The IRS will not ask for your debit or credit card number over the phone

This goes not just for the IRS, but as a general rule, never give your credit card, social security, or any other sensitive information to anyone who calls you. The reason being is you can never truly verify who it is calling you.

Setting the IRS scam aside. Let’s say someone calls you, they identify as a representative from your doctor’s office and say they are calling because you still owe them $100 from your last doctor’s visit. You happen to know that this is the case because of some mail from your insurance company earlier in the week. It all checks out, the caller asks for your payment information. Should you provide it? Actually, no! Not because they are necessarily scamming you, but it could be someone posing as your doctor’s office, right? How can you know for sure? Instead, kindly say, “I will call you back and pay.” This way, you can find the publicly listed phone number for your doctor’s office, and be confident that the person you are speaking with is actually who you think it is. 

5) The IRS will not threaten jail time

Thankfully, in the United States, debtors prisons have not been a thing since the 1800s. You can’t go to jail for owing money. If you get a phone call from someone claiming they are with the IRS and they mention anything about getting arrested, jail, anything like that, you can simply hang up.

Now that you are equipped with some ways to identify a scam. What can you do to avoid getting scam phone calls to begin with?

Unfortunately, not a whole lot. Here are a couple suggestions:

1) You can be placed on the federal “Do Not Call” registry. https://donotcall.gov/

However, the law abiding solicitors are not the ones trying to scam you. The scammers are thieves trying to steal from you, so don’t expect them to adhere to the rules of the do not call registry.

2) Block the number.

Once you’ve identified who they are, simply block the phone number so they can’t reach you again. That may not stop them from calling with a different phone number, but it might slow them down.

3) If they try with other numbers, remember the area code and ignore the calls

If they are very persistent, you might begin to recognize their area code and simply ignore the calls. Often scammers call from different phone numbers but similar area codes. 

4) Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission. https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

Alert the FTC so they can investigate further. Chances are, if you’ve received the call, many others will as well. Alerting the FTC may be a small first step that could go a long way in preventing others from falling victim. 

We hope this information has been useful for you as you guard yourself against unwanted scammers. Additional helpful information can be found on IRS.gov.  The FTC has some valuable tips as well when dealing with phone scams of all sorts. Check it out here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0076-phone-scams