Every day, accounting firms across the country receive calls from clients asking if a call or e-mail they received “from the IRS” is legitimate, do they owe the government money, are they in some sort of trouble, and what do they do?
In such situations the answers are no, no, and no. Because it’s not from the IRS. It’s fake. A fraud. An attempt at theft. And the client is relieved. However, thieves using often-sophisticated methods rob an unknown number of people who don’t have someone to call and are therefore intimidated into responding to the thieves’ scams.
Please note the following:
- The IRS will never call you to demand personal and sensitive financial information.
- The IRS will never send an e-mail to obtain personal or financial information, to “clarify” that you owe more in taxes, or anything of the sort.
- The IRS will never call with a live or prerecorded message saying a warrant has been taken out for your arrest, that charges have been filed against you, or that some other law enforcement agency is on your trail because of a tax issue.
- The IRS will never do any of the above and ask you to call back to find out how you can pay the money the message claims you owe.
- The IRS will never demand you pay right now, without opportunity to ask questions or file an appeal.
- The IRS will never demand you pay with a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or in any other immediate manner.
Fraudulent calls are getting ever-more deceptive. Almost everyone has been irritated with calls from hijacked, or “spoofed,” phone numbers (appearing on caller ID as friends’ numbers, other local numbers or even numbers that resemble your own) with messages offering to improve your credit or send you on a free vacation. Such calls from tax scammers are often devious in that they’re made on caller ID to appear as if they’re coming from an IRS office. Before even realizing what’s happening, the victim is sharing information they shouldn’t share with a person who shouldn’t have it. Or worse, paying money.
Bottom feeders are also trying to take advantage of natural disasters. With hurricane season underway, the IRS warns that these scamming vultures swoop in impersonating well-known charities with calls, e-mails, or even masquerading with names very similar to legitimate charities and real-looking websites, thus diverting contributions to criminal enterprises rather than charities.
They may even impersonate the IRS, offering to help people affected by a hurricane or some other natural disaster receive a tax refund or file loss claims.
This means that it can become a challenge to know what’s real, and what isn’t. Unfortunately, to the degree contributors are trapped in such uncertainty it can reduce the flow of money to eligible recipients.
Here are suggestions on how to react if you’re contacted by someone you suspect is a scammer:
- Phone or e-mail scams: Hang up and don't respond – ever – to a telephone or e-mail demand for an IRS payment or information. Also, don’t try to get information from the caller or the e-mail source; they’re experienced at this. Instead, contact the IRS here; or e-mail the IRS at email@example.com.
- Charitable scams: Use this as a guide.
In short, if in doubt, don’t.