In recent years, scammers have been impersonating IRS agents and calling unsuspecting victims, stating that you owe money, or are subject to a lawsuit because you did not file your taxes correctly. Usually they will ask you for personally identifiable information, such as your Social Security Number (SSN), and credit card or payment details.
These calls are common, because many times the unfortunate reality is that they work. In fact, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported that more than 15,800 victims have sent in excess of $80 million to IRS scammers as a result of phone scams since October 2013. This is a staggering number, and it gets worse each year as the scammers get more sophisticated with their scams and prey on unsuspecting victims.
In almost all cases, these calls are a scam. In this article, we will examine the common ways that fraudsters impersonate the IRS, and conduct phone scams to take advantage of everyday people. (Note: If you want to lookup details of a phone number that called you stating that they are from the IRS, you can use the free phone number lookup tool to see the name and details of the person who called.)
Will the IRS ever call my phone number?
While it’s a common myth that the IRS will never call you via cellphone or landline, there are a few rare instances where the IRS will call you directly – but only after sending a notice, in the form of a physical letter, or by a visit to your home or business. After the IRS tries to get in contact with you via letter or in-person audit, they may call in rare circumstances where you owe greater than $100,000, or are subject to a field audit. Audits in-person unannounced are exceedingly rare – usually they come about only after multiple attempts to contact you via mail. The IRS may also visit you in person to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.
On the official IRS website, it states that:
The IRS may attempt to reach you by telephone, but will not insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order, or wire transfer.Source: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/press/press_tigta-2020-01.htm
In short: You must have a high net worth, or own a business, to ever get a legitimate phone call from the IRS, and this will only happen after they attempt to reach you multiple times via physical mail. You may receive a call from a collection agency stating that they are a debt collector – in this instance, read on to determine if the phone call is legit, or just a scam.
How can I tell if a phone call from the IRS is a scam?
IRS scam calls usually call the victim unannounced, sometimes from a caller ID that is related or similar to real IRS phone numbers. Scammers are able to “spoof” Caller ID in order to make it seem like the number is coming from the real IRS. Read more about how you can spot a spoofed phone call. You should never trust the caller ID of an incoming call from someone who says they work for the IRS.
Usually the call will start off with the scammer “identifying” themselves as an IRS special agent, tax collector, or other position of authority. They might read off a fake or made-up badge number, or provide you with “proof” that they are a real IRS employee. Be sure to ask and write this information down, you may need it later to confirm any of the information that the scammer is telling you, and to report it to the proper authorities later. Specifically, you should ask the caller for:
- Their full name
- The IRS agents’ badge number
- Their phone number with extension
If the caller does not immediately provide this information, or refuses to provide it to you, it is definitely a scam. If the caller does provide this information, write the information down and then immediately hang up the phone. Call the IRS back directly at their official phone number: 800-829-1040, and repeat back the information to the agent to confirm if it is legitimate. This is the only way to determine if the person who called you is indeed a legitimate IRS agent.
A IRS phone scam usually consists of the following themes:
- The call may begin with an automated phone recording stating that you are being connected to an IRS agent, or ask you to press a button to be connected to the agent directly. The IRS does not use these types of automated cell phone systems to reach taxpayers, you will not be asked to connect to an agent if the IRS does call you.
- The scammer may state that you owe taxes, are subject to a refund, or are subject to certain fees that you did not properly pay.
- The scammer may attempt to persuade you to “pay” for the delinquent debts or taxes using a gift card, money order, credit card, pre-paid debit card, cryptocurrency, or other form of payment. Never provide this information, the IRS will never ask you to pay for your taxes over the phone.
- Threaten to file a warrant or lawsuit against you (see: Can the IRS issue a warrant for my arrest?)
- The scammer may threaten to file a lawsuit against you
- The scammer may threaten to revoke your social security number, drivers license, green card, or passport. The real IRS does not have this ability to revoke these types of documents.
Can the IRS issue a warrant for my arrest?
A common IRS scam tactic is that the scammer may threaten to call the local police, immigration office, or law enforcement personnel to “arrest you immediately” or “put you in jail”, or “issue a warrant for you arrest”. The IRS does not report taxpayers to law enforcement personnel without first reaching out to you, multiple times, via physical mail and sometimes in person. The real IRS will not threaten to call law enforcement when they are talking to you on the phone. The IRS will also never leave you a voicemail informing you that you owe taxes or threaten to issue a warrant for your arrest.
How do IRS phone call scammers get my phone number?
There are a variety of ways that scammers could obtain your phone number. Many times, the phone numbers they obtain comes from data providers or public sources, like government documents, the same sources that phone directory websites get their information from. There are also instances where a scammer obtains your phone number from a data breach – such as the Equifax data breach which contains you phone number and other personal data that the scammers may use to convince you that they are legit.
What should I do if I have received a phone call from a IRS scammer?
The IRS has provided specific instructions to report scammers. Once you have followed the steps below, be sure to report the number at our phone number lookup tool using the add comment box to warn others about the scammer who called you.
To report an IRS scammer, be sure to collect the following information, if possible:
- The telephone number of the caller (e.g., Caller ID)
- The telephone number you were instructed to call back
- A brief description of the communication
If possible, please include:
- The employee name
- The employee badge number
- The exact date and time that you received the call(s)
- The geographic location and time zone where you received the call if possible
Once you have all or parts of the information listed above, you can submit the information on this online form from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)
How can I file a complaint against a IRS scammer?
If you want to inform the government about an IRS phone call that you received which you believe is a scam, you can use the following resources to do so:
- File an official complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via their online complaint form
- Contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by visiting the Consumer Complaint Center. In order to route the complaint to the right department, make sure to select the “phone” form and then the “Unwanted Calls” under “Phone Issues” option, and provide details of the call in the description of their complaint
- If you want to go the extra mile, you can contact your local Attorney General’s office via their consumer complaint form (the reporting mechanism will vary by state)
If the scammer called from a specific phone number that is not associated with the IRS, you can also leave a comment warning other people about the scammer by performing a search of the number here.
What are the official IRS phone numbers?
|IRS Phone Number||Details|
|1-800-829-1040||Individuals – General Information Phone Number|
|1-800-829-4933||Businesses – General Information Phone Number|
|1-800-829-3676||Tax Forms and Instructions Phone Number|
|1-800-829-0922||Payment Plan Options|
|1-866-699-4083||Estate and gift taxes (Form 706/709)|
|1-844-545-5640||Taxpayer assistance appointment scheduling|