Spot a Tax Season Phone Scam

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Telemarketing calls can be tough to avoid, especially now that technology has made it so easy to spoof a real phone number. IRS phishing scams have become a normal tax season challenge, and the IRS is warning that phone scams may be on the increase this year. By knowing how to avoid these scams, you can reduce your risk of identity theft and save yourself potential delays and credit score risks.

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What Are IRS Phone Scams?

An IRS phone scam typically uses a technique called phishing to gather information on you. A call comes through appearing to be from the IRS, and someone impersonating an IRS agent either leaves a message or speaks to you directly when you answer. The communication can often be threatening in nature, telling you that if you don't comply, it might result in arrest, deportation or license revocation.

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Although these phone calls appear to come from the IRS, scammers are using a technique called spoofing to fake the number. The calls are designed to coerce you to give information that can be used for identity fraud including your Social Security number. In some cases, the caller may try to ask for a credit card number or for funds to be remitted using wire transfer.

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Consider also:Check Out These Tax Tips Direct From the IRS

If you know that you don't owe taxes and you're fairly sure the communication is fraudulent, you can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

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Legitimate IRS Communications

The best way to detect an IRS impersonation scam is to understand how the IRS communicates with taxpayers. The IRS's communications on unpaid taxes typically come via postal mail, not by phone. If you get a call from the IRS, you will never be asked to provide your Social Security number or to remit payment by phone.

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If you ever have questions about a communication from the IRS, it's best to contact taxpayer services directly at ​800-829-1040​. Customer support is available Monday through Friday from ​7 a.m.​ to ​7 p.m​. For questions about the status of your tax refund, it's always best to use the Where's My Refund? tool on the IRS website.

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Other Tax Season Scams

Phone calls aren't the only way that scammers operate. Phishing emails, as well as fake emails designed to coerce you into downloading an attachment with malware, are common during tax season. Do not reply to those unsolicited emails. Instead, forward the email as an attachment to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

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You may also get a text message claiming to be from the IRS. Those became especially common during the pandemic and typically include a link to a phishing site that gathers information on taxpayers. If you get such a text message, forward a screenshot of it to phishing@irs.gov.

Consider also:Scam Phone Calls & Text Messages: How to Report Them

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Reporting Fraudulent Calls

The safest route, if you receive a communication from the IRS, is to call to verify that it's legitimate. Most IRS notices will come by mail, but those can be faked, as well, so taking steps to verify a notice's legitimacy is never a bad idea. Be aware, though, that during tax season, wait times on the IRS customer service line can be lengthy.

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If you know that you don't owe taxes and you're fairly sure the communication is fraudulent, you can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can also report telephone scams using the Federal Trade Commission's fraud reporting tool. Regardless, it's important to never give details like your SSN, banking information, date of birth, usernames or passwords to someone who reaches out to you by phone, email or text.

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Tax fraud is an ever-present danger, and fraudsters seem to be getting more sophisticated in their efforts. IRS employees will never ask for this type of information by phone, text or email, but if you're in doubt about a communication, always contact the IRS.

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