What could be worse than owing money to the IRS? How about getting ripped off by a telephone or internet scammer posing as an IRS employee? Sadly, that happens on a regular basis, often to unsuspecting older Americans.
Tax hustlers typically take one of two approaches. They either say you owe back taxes and must pay up immediately to avoid dire consequences, or they claim you are owed a refund and must provide confidential bank account info to enable a transfer into your account. The callers are often well prepared with some background information about you, an IRS “employee number” and even a bogus caller ID that reads “IRS.”
Now, the IRS can be aggressive in attempting to collect its pound of flesh, but it plays by some pretty strict laws and rules. The agency hates these scammers and works hard to educate the public about how to know the difference between a bogus and real IRS communication.
Here are the IRS’ five tips for identifying a fake IRS call:
1. Demands immediate payment. The IRS does not make phone calls seeking immediate payment of taxes. In fact, the agency never calls a taxpayer before first sending a letter explaining the issue and apparent liability.
2. Demands instant payment without appeal. Taxpayers have the absolute right to discuss and appeal any tax bill, no matter how big or small. The details of that process are often included in the letter you would receive from the IRS before getting a phone call from the agency.
3. Asks for debit or credit card numbers over the phone. Nope. The IRS doesn’t do that.
4. Demands that “taxes” be paid via a specific method, such as a prepaid debit card. Again, this is not IRS practice or policy.
5. Threatens to have you arrested for non-payment of taxes. The IRS certainly has the ability to force you to pay-up, but they don’t summon the cops to your house over an unpaid tax bill.
All of the above is also true for any “IRS” communication you might receive via email, text or social media. The real IRS does not use those channels to communicate with individuals about their personal tax issues.
If you get a call making one of these demands, do not under any circumstances provide bank account info. Instead, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. They can tell you if you have a tax liability and work with you to resolve it.
Dealing with the real IRS may not be fun, but it’s a lot better than dealing some phony version set on emptying your bank account.