Know the Five Tell-Tale Signs of an IRS Phone Scam

Written By:

Steven G. Horn

phone scamI continue to hear from clients who have received calls from scammers posing as IRS agents trying to collect allegedly owed taxes over the phone. As I’ve written in the past, I received one of these calls myself a few years ago.  In a nutshell, the caller asserts that you owe taxes that must be paid immediately using a pre-paid debit card or they will notify the police.

The IRS recently re-issued a warning to taxpayers that scammers were using bullying tactics—shouting, vulgar language, threats of jail time—or the promise of substantial refunds to coerce taxpayers into sending them money via pre-paid debit cards. In its recent warning, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) estimated that since October 2013, they have received reports of roughly 896,000 phone scams. More than 5,000 victims have paid an estimated $26.5 million as a result of these scams.

The IRS has posted a short video about these scams on YouTube. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  1. Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to confirm your status. You can also contact the IRS at IRS workers can help you.

The tax professionals on my team and I are available to discuss any communication you receive about your taxes. It is better to be safe than sorry.