Q: I just got an upsetting phone call from someone who said I owe money to the IRS. He said if I didn’t pay it back right away using a pre-loaded debit card or a wire transfer, that I might be arrested or deported, or that I might lose my driver’s license. I hung up the phone, but now I’m worried. What if I’m arrested?
A: The IRS is currently warning consumers about a scam that has hit taxpayers, including recent immigrants, in nearly every state in the country. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If victims refuse to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
The IRS DOES NOT and WILL NOT ask for credit card numbers over the phone. Also, the IRS WILL NOT ask you for a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, and person threatens you with police arrest, deportation or revocation of your license if you don’t pay immediately, those are signs that it really isn’t the IRS calling. If the IRS wants to contact you about a tax issue, you will probably receive your first notice through the mail.
Q: What else should I know about this phone scam?
A: You should know that:
· scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers, and generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves;
· scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of your Social Security number;
· scammers may spoof the IRS toll-free number on your caller ID to make it appear that it’s really the IRS calling;
· scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to support their bogus calls;
· you may hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site;
· after threatening you with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers may hang up, but then other scammers may soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV (and your caller ID may support this claim).
Q: What should I do if I ever get a call like that again?
A: If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:
• If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if one actually exists.
• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill, or the caller made the threats described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Q: Are there other scams I should know about?
A: Yes. You should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
The IRS encourages you to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. If you receive such a communication, you should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the email to email@example.com.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A: For more information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS, go to the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.
The information for this “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Internal Revenue Service. It was prepared by the Ohio State Bar Association. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.