The IRS isn't calling you — it's a scam, and here's what to do if it happens to you

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesThe IRS prefers snail mail.
  • IRS scam calls are a normal occurrence around tax season.
  • Every year, the IRS warns taxpayers to beware of a long list of tax scams.
  • Almost 143 million “nuisance and high-risk calls” were made on April 17, the tax-filing deadline, last year.
  • I received a call last tax season alleging “fraud and misconduct” associated with my taxes and urging me to return the call “immediately.”

The IRS isn’t exactly modern.

If it needs to get in touch with a taxpayer, it sends a letter – not an email, not a phone call, and definitely not a message over social media. Especially in cases of tax fraud.

So when I got a voicemail around Tax Day last year admonishing me for supposed issues with the tax return I filed, I knew it had to be the latest IRS phone scam.

A phone number from Washington, DC, called me and left a voicemail when I didn’t answer.

It was an automated message that said:

“Time sensitive and urgent … we found that there was a fraud and misconduct on your tax which you are hiding from federal government. This needs to be rectified immediately, so please return the call as soon as you receive the message.”

It told me to return the call to the same DC-area phone number displayed on my caller ID. It’s pretty clear this was a scam call, if not for the simple reason that the caller did not identify themselves as someone from the IRS. Also, as previously mentioned, the IRS prefers snail mail.

Tax Day 2018 saw the highest number of robo-calls of any day of the year, according to data from Transaction Network Services (TNS). Almost 143 million “nuisance and high-risk calls” were made on April 17, the tax-filing deadline, last year. Many of the callers posed as the IRS in an attempt to acquire personal information or money.


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“Consumers should be especially vigilant as we approach tax season, but given the fact that nuisance robocall volume increased 13% in 2018 it is important to never let your guard down when callers are asking for personal information,” said Bill Versen, chief product officer at TNS, in a press release.

The IRS even issued a warning during tax season last year about “a new twist on an old scam” that Americans need to watch out for. It said scammers file a fake tax return with stolen personal information, like your Social Security number, and then use actual bank account information to have the refund deposited into your own account.

Then they call to collect, posing as the IRS or debt collectors demanding the return of the fraudulent tax refund. In some cases, the caller threatens criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant, and to “blacklist” the taxpayer’s Social Security Number.

What to do if you receive an IRS scam call or a fraudulent tax refund

Never return a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Instead, individuals should call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040, and businesses should call 800-829-4933.

The US Department of Justice says the IRS never discusses personal tax issues through unsolicited emails or texts, or over social media. Always be wary if you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS who says you owe money.

If you receive an unexpected and suspicious email from the IRS, forward it to [email protected].

If you think you are a victim of identity theft or tax fraud, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IRS also has detailed instructions on what to do if you are a victim of tax fraud. Taxpayers who receive a fraudulent tax refund should follow IRS guidelines for returning the money.

File as soon as possible to protect against other IRS scams

Since tax season presents plenty of opportunity for would-be identity thieves, the best way to protect against these IRS scam calls and other tax scams – especially potential identity theft – is to file your tax return as soon as possible, after you receive your tax forms from your employer in January.

The IRS says the fastest way to get your tax refund is the method already used by most taxpayers: filing electronically and selecting direct deposit as the method for receiving your refund.

Popular online tax services like TurboTax and H&R Block are easy to use, even for tax novices. If you plan to visit an accountant, make an appointment early to avoid the rush.

The IRS says direct deposit – which the government also uses for Social Security and Veterans Affairs payments – is “simple, safe, and secure.”

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