Beware of Tax Scams

Young man on cell phone

Learn to recognize the signs of tax scams.

Tax scams aren’t limited to “tax season.” All year long, fraudsters take to the phones and claim to be Internal Revenue Service employees, complete with official-sounding titles and fake names and badge numbers. They may use your name, address, and other personal information to make the call sound legit. Usually they’ll change the caller ID so it looks like the call is coming from the IRS. (Trust us, it’s not.) Being aware of how the fraudsters operate is one way to protect yourself.

Red flags

Scammers are always changing the ways they try to take advantage of people, but, even as their specific scams change, some aspects of the scams stay the same. Here are a few things to keep in mind when someone calls you out of the blue claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS will never: 

  • Call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills
  • Demand immediate payment over the phone
  • Require you to use a specific payment method
  • Threaten to immediately bring in law enforcement to arrest you for not paying
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount you’re said to owe
  • Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and/or financial information
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or email
  • Leave a pre-recorded, urgent, or threatening phone message

If the caller uses one or more of these tactics, it’s always always always a scam!

Common scam scenarios

Now that you know what to watch out for, here are a couple of common scenarios that tax scammers use. There are many variations on these basic scams, and, of course, many other scenarios as well.

Bogus tax bill
The caller will say you owe money to the IRS and demand that you pay immediately with a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. They might threaten you with arrest, deportation, or suspension of your driver’s license. Often, the scammer will become aggressive, hostile, and insulting, and will try to bully you into paying.

Please verify your information
The caller may politely say, “We have your tax return, but I need to verify a few details before I can process it.” This scam tries to get you to give up sensitive information, such as your Social Security number and account or credit card numbers. Scammers may even offer you some partial information, such as the last four digits of your Social Security number, to trick you into trusting them.

What should you do?

If you’re contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS who asks for money or personal info, hang up right away. Do not answer any questions. Don’t tell them anything at all! If it happens that they left you a phone message, do not call them back. (Done and done!)

For more great information specifically relating to tax scams, check out this IRS reminder. It includes plenty of extras, such as how to report IRS impersonation scams; how to view tax account information online; and what to do if you think you might actually owe money.