Recently, I received a call from a number with a Washington, D.C. area code. On the line was someone claiming to be from the IRS, and claiming that I owe taxes. For a second, panic clutched at me; however, I quickly regained my senses and hung up the phone.
It’s a scary thing to think that you owe taxes. Even when you know you don’t owe anything, there’s still an unreasonable sense of fear. At the very least, such a call prompts panicked feelings that you’re going to have to fight the government to prove you don’t owe anything.
If you get such a call, though, don’t let fear cloud your judgment and lead you to do something foolish, like actually send money to the person on the other end of the line.
The Details on This New Scam
The IRS has put out warnings about this latest scam, which attempts to scare you into sending money, and perhaps turn over sensitive personal financial information. It’s worth noting that the scam can be fairly sophisticated.
My caller ID showed a number with a D.C. area code, but other scammers are smarter, spoofing the caller ID with the 800 number used as the IRS’s only toll-free number. Additionally, some scammers might call from in-state, implying that they’re calling from the local processing center.
The IRS warns that some scammers might have some of your information, which they’ve gained in unscrupulous ways. The caller might have the last four digits of your Social Security number or your address. It’s important not to let the sophistication fool you — whether you hear “official” sounds in the background, or whether the person pretends to give you a “badge number.”
Once you believe that you’re going to be in trouble unless you pay up (threats include jail time or, for immigrants, deportation), you might be asked to load money onto a prepaid debit card, give away personal banking information, or wire money. Don’t do any of these things.
How the IRS Will Actually Contact You
Even though I was stunned and worried for a few seconds when I received that phone call, I quickly remembered one very important fact: The IRS normally contacts you via snail mail. Your initial contact from the IRS is going to come in the mail, after which you’ll have the chance to get a representative to handle the interactions on your behalf.
Additionally, the IRS won’t ask you to load up prepaid debit cards, and it certainly won’t ask you to complete a wire transfer. Plus, you won’t be threatened with arrest and jail time the first time the IRS contacts you. In fact, unless the IRS can prove that you were actively evading taxes, you probably won’t go to jail — even if you actually do owe something.
If you get one of these phone calls, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s probably a scam. Then call 1-800-366-4484 to report the fraudulent call.
Has you or anyone you know received one of these phone calls? How did you react?