Internal Revenue Service scams are unfortunately becoming more and more common every year. Not only is the frequency of scams on the rise, the sophistication of scammers is increasing as well.
Here are four methods scammers currently use, and how to tell if they’re truly scams or legitimate correspondence from the IRS:
The IRS will only contact you by regular mail first. Click here to see what to do if you receive a notice or letter in the mail from the IRS. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent without receiving a legitimate letter in the mail first, it’s a scam.
How can you be sure it’s a scammer? Here are a few things a fake “agent” would do that a real IRS agent would not:
- Call you to demand immediate payment
- Demand that you pay the IRS without giving you an opportunity to question or appeal the amount
- Require you to use a specific payment method to pay your taxes
- Ask for credit, debit, or bank info over the phone
- Threaten to get the police involved or have you arrested
- Ask for alternate payments other than US currency (I know someone who was contacted by an IRS scammer and suggested he pay his “tax bill” in Target gift cards. No, seriously.)
The con artists will even change the caller ID to make it look legitimate.
The same goes for SMS messages; the IRS will never text you.
The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email. According to the IRS, there was a 400% increase in phishing––not the sport––and malware incidents in 2016!
These fake emails contain links to imitation sites that mimic the IRS website, where you’ll be asked to input your Social Security number and other personal information. Identity thieves use this info to file false tax returns in your name, generating a refund that goes right into their pockets.
The scam emails, links, and sites also can contain malware, which could give your computer a virus or allow hackers to access your information.
Visit this page on the IRS website to see a list of known recent tax scams.
3. Regular mail
This one is the most tricky to identify because it is the primary and most reliable form of correspondence from the IRS.
Scammers have evolved and are aware that the IRS initially only contacts taxpayers via snail mail. They try to duplicate IRS notices by copying the official letterhead and mimicking the layout of the letter.
The contents of the letter include asking you for money and/or to “verify” your personal information, usually accompanied by a threat of some kind. Be on the lookout for misspellings in your name, address, or in the body of the letter – this is usually a sign that it’s bogus.
Some of these fake letters can also be faxed to you, so be on the lookout for those as well.
4. Social Media
Believe it or not, fake IRS agents are targeting taxpayers via social media. The IRS will never request anything or communicate with you about personal matters on a social media platform. The IRS’s social media accounts are used strictly for news, updates, and reminders.
What to Do if You Think You Have Been Scammed
Keep in mind, these scammers are very sophisticated – they sound professional and most likely will know a good deal of information about you. Don’t let that fool you. Trust your gut, and if you’re at all suspicious, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to see if they actually did contact you.
Feel free to contact me if you want a professional opinion on the correspondence you received; unfortunately, I have seen and heard enough of these scams to be able to identify them.
If you were a victim of an IRS scam, let me know about it! Your story could help identify and prevent a similar scam from happening to someone else.
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone – (646) 397-9537
Facebook – Nicholas Aiola, CPA
Twitter – @nicholasaiola
Also, you can visit this page on the IRS website for directions on how to handle such scams and a list of who to contact to report them.
The photo used for the featured image of this blog post, “irs-fraud”, is copyright (c) 2015 Mark Warner and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
Nick Aiola is a CPA located in New York, NY. Nick provides tax and accounting services to a wide range of clients, including individuals, businesses, and fiduciary entities.