Beware of IRS-imposter Phone Scams

Written By:

Steven G. Horn

Tax accountants aren't immune to IRS scams. The other day I got a voice mail message from someone posing as an IRS agent. In a very aggressive tone, the caller said that I owed taxes (I don't) and if I didn't return his call immediately, police would come to my door and arrest me. I deleted the message, but was surprised when I got a similar call the next day. And then one of my clients called me, complaining that the same thing had happened to him. This was my cue to remind our clients about IRS-related scams.

In April before the filing deadline, posted a warning to taxpayers that scammers were using bullying tactics—shouting, vulgar language, threats of jail time—to intimidate taxpayers into sending them pre-paid debit cards. The site posted a second warning in August, stating that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) had received 90,000 complaints and it estimated that victims had lost an estimated $5 million as a result of these scams. Just last week, online articles indicated that scammers were working in Montana, California, Michigan and New Jersey using very similar tactics.

Here's what and I want you to know: the IRS will

1. NEVER call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice. Official notices are sent via the United States Postal Service and never by email, text, or other social media.
2. NEVER demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
3. NEVER require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
4. NEVER ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
5. NEVER threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

In addition to phone scams, the theft of taxpayers' personal information to use in filing fraudulent IRS claims is on the rise.

"Tax-related identity theft continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the Federal system of tax administration," said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement reported in According to the web site, the IRS began issuing Identity Protection Personal Identification Numbers, or IP PINs, to eligible taxpayers in fiscal year 2011 to help victims of identity theft. Use of an IP PIN provides relief to taxpayers because it allows the IRS to process their tax returns without delay and helps prevent the misuse of taxpayers' Social Security Numbers on fraudulent tax returns, TIGTA noted. The IRS notes that the use of IP PINs has resulted in extremely low recurrence of identity theft. January of this year, the IRS began a pilot program to allow some taxpayers to request an IP PIN online.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to work for the IRS, and you haven't received written communication from the IRS in the mail first, hang up or ignore the message. Then, report the scam to For questions about scams or IP PINS, contact TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at

For more information about this article, please contact Steve Horn, Tax Partner.