Beware: A New Scam Scares You Into Thinking You Owe Taxes

by Miranda Marquit · 8 comments

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?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Lynn says:

    I just received a phone call this morning from a man in New York who said my daughter owes back taxes. I was told that if I wanted to find out more information I could call another number, which I did. After not giving any information, I contacted my daughter who said she had heard about this scam and would report it.

    It is very frightening when you are a parent receiving a call like this because you don’t know for sure whether you child might actually owe back taxes. They told me that she could be subject to arrest, or garnishment, or freezing of her assets, etc. I was frightened for her. I hope they catch these people before more innocent people are hurt.

  • Levi Blackman says:

    I have received calls like this in the past. Not necessarily saying I owe taxes but for bills that I didn’t even know I had. I make it a habit to never give out personal information over the phone unless I am doing the calling and I know who I am talking to.

  • property marbella says:

    The criminals are getting smarter and smarter. It is always good to check and double check before you send any money or say yes to any subscription or scheme.

  • Terrance says:

    I’ve never had one of those calls, but i always get letters from companies saying i need services for my corporation. It is really confusing. It looks like a legal document that comes from the state.
    I also get many confusing domain registrar letters. They make it look like i owe them money or have to pay them in order to not lose my domain names.

  • Kostas @ Finance Zone says:

    Recently had an odd phone call from a D.C. number but I didn’t put any stock into it as something about it didn’t sit well with me. I’m glad I ignored it, people will do anything to steal from others.

  • Will says:

    Hopefully these guys get shut down and have the book thrown at them. Impersonating a federal officer is a serious offence and I can only imagine how many people are falling for this.

    • MoneyNing says:

      You’re right. The best deterrent is always severe punishment. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t use this tactic more often to keep people from doing dumb things (like texting and driving for instance).

  • John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    Wow, that’ crazy! It never ceases to amaze me what efforts some will go to in order to try and scam others. We have never received calls like this, but have family members who have received similar ones. I think it’s best to just not allow your emotions to get the best of you and just hang up.

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