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Phone Scam: U.S. Warns of Calls from Fake IRS Agents

Taxpayers should be on high alert for identity thieves pretending to be from the IRS, the U.S. Treasury warns.

More than 20,000 taxpayers have been targeted, including thousands of victims who have paid over $1 million to criminals claiming to be IRS officials, said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for tax administration, in a news release.

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“This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen,” George said.

The fraudsters tell people they owe taxes and must pay with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They threaten those who refuse to pay by telling them they will be arrested, deported or lose a business or driver’s license if they don’t pony up the money.

George said the phone scam has affected victims in nearly every state.

The IRS usually contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes and won't ask for payment using a prepaid card or wire transfer, George said. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.

“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” he said.

The callers who commit this fraud often:

  • Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
  • Use fake Caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
  • Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
  • Call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, again with fake Caller ID.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do:

  • If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040.
  • If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to the Treasury Department at 800-366-4484.
  • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Add “IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.

The IRS offers more information about various kinds of tax scams on its website.

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