Scammers Prey on People's Fears of the IRS
There seems to be no limit to the methods that criminals will use to part innocent people from their money. Recently they have been calling American taxpayers, claiming to be the IRS or some other government agency and insisting that money is owed and threatening dire consequences unless payment is made immediately. Other scams use email: these are called phishing schemes, and they operate by sending out emails that appear to be from the IRS and asking for personal information such as the taxpayer's date of birth, social security number, or even bank account numbers or passwords. In both cases, it is their intent to rob you of your hard-earned dollars. Falling for these tricks can result in stolen identities and many headaches.
With the end of the year approaching and tax time soon to follow, we are anticipating that these criminal activities are going to increase, so it is important that you understand what is real and what is not. The more educated you are about these scams and what to look for, the better you can protect yourself.
There's one basic thing that you need to know about the IRS, and if you remember this then your chances of being caught in one of these scams drops dramatically. The IRS only contacts taxpayers by the U.S. mail. They do not email and they do not call on the phone.
Any email that you receive that claims to come from the IRS is a scam. You should delete it. Don't respond, don't reply, and don't worry about it. Likewise, any phone call that you receive that claims to be from the IRS is fraudulent. You can hang up and walk away. Don't worry about being rude - they were trying to steal your money.
The IRS has very strict rules about the way that they interact with taxpayers. These include:
- They will never demand that you immediately submit payment of taxes via a credit card or any kind of debit or prepaid card. They also will not take that form of payment over the telephone.
- They will never dictate what method of payment you must use to pay your taxes.
- There is no such thing as immediate enforcement after a telephone call. Scammers have tried to pressure those who they get on the phone into giving them their credit card information by saying that they are sending a car over immediately to arrest them. When the IRS is preparing to take enforcement action involving tax liens or fines, they first send written notification.
E-Mail IRS Scams
The emails that the scammers are using to try to cheat taxpayers out of their money are called 'phishing expeditions'. Remember, the IRS NEVER initially contacts taxpayers by email. Their first contact is always by telephone. Any email or phone call that claims to be from the IRS is somebody trying to scare you into giving them money or cheat you by tricking you into giving up personal information. When you receive an email that claims to be from the IRS, it will likely ask you to click on a link to provide them with passwords, or bank account information, or your social security number or credit card number. The criminals who are sending these will then use the information that you provide to either steal your identity, to make charges against your credit card, or to take your money. There are only two things that you should do when you receive one of these emails. Forward it to the IRS (you don't need to write a note) at email@example.com address, and then delete the message. Do not respond, do not click any links, and do not worry about it any further.
The emails that are sent out by scammers can be quite sophisticated. They will look very official, may contain the IRS letterhead, and may seem innocuous - just asking you to update information. Do not ever provide pin numbers, passwords, or any other personal information. This is valuable advice no matter who the email is coming from: no reputable company will ask you to provide this information via email. If you are not sure, then before responding to an email from a company with whom you do business, call their customer service number that you'll find on the back of your credit card or your account information to make sure. You will likely find that the request did not come from them. Delete and ignore the email.
In addition to sending emails claiming that updated information is needed, phishing expedition emails appearing to be from the IRS or your bank or credit card company may try any of the following ploys:
- Claiming that you are owed a refund and they need your bank account number and password in order to transfer money to you. The IRS will not contact you via email for any reason.
- Claiming that there is a wire transfer for your account pending and they need to confirm your account information. If there is any possibility that this is legitimate, call your bank directly to confirm.
- Claiming that you are the recipient of a large inheritance from a long-forgotten relative in a foreign company and requesting bank information so that the funds can be deposited.
Scammers try to play on both our fear and our greed, so whether they are threatening you to get your personal information or promising you free money, it is a lie.