You pick up the phone and hear, “This is the IRS calling about an overdue tax payment.” If you’re like most people, that’s enough to make you a little nervous. But slow down; that’s probably not the IRS on the phone and the caller is counting on that opening making you nervous enough to do whatever they tell you.
IRS impersonation scams are a big problem. Criminals pretending to be from the IRS contact potential victims via phone, email, text message, social media, and even in person. They can spoof caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from the IRS; they may know details about you that make it seem legitimate; they might even say you have a refund waiting to get you to give them personal information to “confirm” it. They’ll threaten legal action (including arrest), demand payment immediately and ask for credit card numbers over the phone or for a pre-paid debit card, or leave a voicemail with urgent instructions to follow so you don’t face even bigger penalties. This isn’t how the IRS operates. You can read more here but you should at least know the basics.
1) The IRS almost always send a bill in the mail before contacting you via phone or in person. If you haven’t gotten a bill but get a call (or other contact), be suspicious.
2) If the person claiming they’re from the IRS demands an immediate or specific type of payment (credit card number, pre-paid debit card, wire transfer, etc.), they’re not really from the IRS.
3) If they threaten to involve law enforcement if you don’t comply immediately, it’s a scam. The IRS won’t do this and always allows you to question or appeal the amount you owe.
So what should you do? First, don’t give them any additional information. Don’t click any links in an email or open any attachments. Don’t even confirm information they already have.
If you think you may actually owe money, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 to confirm and they can help you with payment issues. Don’t use callback numbers left in a voicemail or email or visit a website that’s been emailed to you. Call the IRS on their publicly available numbers or go to www.irs.gov directly.
If you’re positive you don’t owe any tax payments, you can report the issue to the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and/or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you’re not sure what to do, it’s always safest to treat it as suspicious and confirm independently with the IRS. Depending on the type of contact you receive, this page on the IRS website regarding how to report scams will help you with how to proceed.