IRS warns public about phony tax scams

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It’s hard not to feel intimidated when the IRS is on the other end of the phone line.

Scammers increasingly have been exploiting that, posing as Internal Revenue Service agents and tricking people into paying phony tax bills.

On Wednesday, the agency reissued a warning about the ploy, which has triggered some 90,000 complaints nationwide to the IRS’s oversight arm. Roughly 1,100 victims have been identified who have lost some $5 million. That’s about $4,500 per victim.

“There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail.”

Typically, potential victims are told they owe money that must be paid promptly through a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. If they refuse to cooperate, they are threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of their driver’s license.

The crooks use fake names and IRS badge numbers when identifying themselves; may be able to recite the last four digits of a potential victim’s Social Security number; and may spoof the agency’s toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear as if the call is coming from the IRS.

Sometimes, scammers send bogus follow-up IRS emails to support their calls.

In many cases, callers become hostile and insulting, the agency said.

The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the phone, nor does it request a specific payment method for tax obligations, the agency said.

In addition, the IRS does not request immediate payment over the phone or take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving tax liens or levies, the agency said.

People who think they might owe taxes should call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for help.

Taxpayers who suspect they’ve been targeted by a scam should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. Also contact the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint assistant at www.FTC.gov. Include “IRS Telephone Scam” in the comment section of the complaint.

Consumers also should avoid opening attachments or clicking on any links in unfamiliar emails.

For more information, visit www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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