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How to identify an IRS phone tax scam?

Over the last couple years, the IRS has sent out numerous warnings about phone tax scams. An impersonator claims to be an IRS agent calling to notify you of an error that resulted in a tax bill. Then, the caller demands immediate payment or threatens you with arrest.

Since late 2013, more than 5,000 victims have been tricked into paying $26.5 million according to the Service. We need to point out that the IRS will never call you without first mailing you a tax bill. Recently, National Public Radio shared what these types of calls actually sounds like.

Pindrop Security, a firm that investigates phone fraud, recorded a call with a presumed victim. Phone metadata indicated the call came from a Seattle suburb, but this probably did not come up on caller id because tools can easily hide the caller's actual physical location.

Three red flags

If you receive a call out of the blue regarding a tax bill, be skeptical. The scam plays on fears and sounds real, because the amount of back taxes is usually less than $2,000.

But the IRS never does any of the following three things.

  1. In the first part of the recording the purported IRS agent threatens that local law enforcement has an arrest warrant and will arrive soon. The IRS does not make these kinds of threats.
  2. As the call goes on, the call center operator asks for cash to pay the outstanding tax bill of $1,986.73. The IRS does not demand immediate cash payment.
  3. The caller asks that payment be sent to an individual person in Boston. IRS payment requests go through processing centers.

Even in circumstances when you can verify that a caller is an IRS agent, you should not deal with the agent on your own. Similar to a criminal investigation, what you say can be twisted and later used against you.  

When you owe significant back taxes, contact a tax resolution attorney who can assist with an installment agreement or offer in compromise. 

Source: NPR.org, "A Real-Life Tax Scam: This Is What IRS Phone Fraud Sounds Like," Aarti Shahani, Apr. 11, 2016

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