So I have to say I am one that does not scare easily. But when you get a phone call with a very aggressive, threatening recorded voicemail from the IRS, more than a little apprehension shoots through your body in the moment they say tax evasion and local authorities to arrest you. This happened to me this morning. In that immediate moment I started running through my mind of what I could have possibly done that they could possibly think is tax fraud or evasion. Now, I’m a smart girl and my super awesome girl power called intuition kicked in pretty quick and said that it was fishy. But in that moment of hearing “tax fraud”, “tax evasion”, “local authorities” and “arrest you”, my adrenaline was pumping. So as a result, I thought I would share so you don’t have to experience this too.
As a little background, I have moved, gotten married, changed my name, changed my filing status, and social security card all in less than two years. I have experienced letters from the IRS with my husband (result of divorce and support, kids and claiming) so I know they send letters. In the moment when I got this call, my mind was racing, “What if they have been trying to contact me and couldn’t reach me by mail?” and “I’m still getting letters from my insurance company that get routed to my home address from over 16 years ago!” So I am familiar with their practices but I also believe in due diligence.
As I said, my intuition told me something was fishy. I looked up the IRS contact numbers and the number that had called me was a VALID and ACTUAL IRS number. Okay…not so cool. Next, I back routed the number that they left for me to callback. While the number did not list a name or corporation, it did tell me two things – the phone was a Washington, DC number and, more importantly, that in the last hour over 55 people had looked it up so it was likely a scam.
I looked up scams and in my perusing, admittedly brief, I didn’t see anything that spoke directly to what I experienced. So I called my accountant and she stated, clearly, yes it was a scam (as I suspected). She mentioned that someone else had just asked her about it at church. She sent me an awesome online article from the Wall Street Journal regarding this. Sadly, those that fall pray to this scam are losing, on average, $5,000 per victim.
Here are things to be aware of:
1. These scammers are incredibly aggressive with the actual live contact calls and recorded messages. They threaten consequences for tax fraud, evasion and back owed taxes such as revoked driver’s licenses and arrest by local authorities. What’s really scary is they seem to know personal information about you and your taxes as well as appear to call from a VALID Internal Revenue Service number. Note: Personal contact such as by telephone is not made by the IRS until multiple attempts by mail have failed – that includes sending a bill. Nor will they threaten you with local law enforcement to arrest you or revocation of your driver’s license.
2. They impersonate an official IRS agent with fake badge numbers and titles. They seek immediate payment for back owed taxes. They even call about refunds. All of this is designed around getting your debit card, bank account or credit card information. Note: The IRS will not ask for specific form of payment such as personal debit card or credit card information over the phone or prepaid debt cards.
3. They require immediate payment over the phone without an opportunity to appeal the process or question what is owed. Note: The IRS doesn’t use this practice for collection of back taxes.
4. They use alternative forms of communication. Note: Currently the IRS doesn’t use unsolicited emails, social media, or text messaging to communicate personal and private tax information or issues.
If you find yourself, like me, getting a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, the IRS recommends to do the following:
- If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to talk about payment options. You also may be able to set up a payment plan online at IRS.gov.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
- If phone scammers target you, also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report the scam. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
It was an unnerving phone call to get this morning, even though I suspected it was fraud once I got my wits about me. And that’s what is so hideous about this scam. Most people are afraid of the IRS (and should be) and even remotely making a mistake on their taxes. That said, one of the best pieces of advice that the IRS has given is to hang up and not engage the scammer, should you receive a call. Repeat as necessary. Eventually they will move on.
Here’s to a less eventful morning tomorrow. See you all next post!