Whether initiated by sophisticated overseas operators or homegrown con artists, all bogus IRS schemes have a similar objective in mind: to steal your identity and gain access to your accounts. Phony IRS agents often use common American names and fake badge numbers. To enhance legitimacy, they may provide limited personal information about you, such as the last four digits of your social security number or birth date. Others may manipulate caller ID to show that the call originated from Washington, DC. If you reply to a call-back number, an answering machine may announce that you’ve reached the criminal investigation division of the IRS. A fraudster may even become aggressive and threaten jail time if you don’t comply with his demands, then hang up and direct a co-conspirator to call back in the guise of a local policeman.
Some employ a different tactic, offering a carrot instead of a stick. You may be told that the IRS owes you some money. But to get your refund you’ll need to disclose bank account numbers and other personal information.
Crooks have used e-mail and other forms of electronic communication as well to perpetrate the scam. The text may include links to sham websites designed to mimic official sites, encouraging you to fill in forms with confidential data such as bank account numbers and passwords. E-mail attachments may contain malicious code designed to infect your computer or allow unauthorized access to your financial information.
How can you tell whether the IRS is really contacting you? The agency’s official website ( HYPERLINK www.irs.gov) makes it quite clear: The IRS “does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.” The IRS website further states that the agency “will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail.” IRS agents will never ask for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone. Nor will they ask for PINs, passwords, or other confidential access information.
If you think you might actually owe taxes, call the IRS directly. If you receive a call that appears bogus, ask for a call back number and employee badge number. Then report the details to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov.