Suppose that you’re listening to your phone messages and you hear a computer-generated voice say that the Internal Revenue Service intends to file a legal action against you in your local courthouse because you owe back taxes. Could this possibly be true?
The IRS Doesn’t Leave Recorded Messages
If you find yourself in a scenario like the one above, you can be certain the IRS is not behind it. If you owe the IRS money, the IRS will notify you by mail (sometimes certified mail), not by phone. In fact, you can expect to get many letters explaining in detail the amount you owe for a particular tax year.
(For more information, read Does the IRS Call to Tell You They Are Suing You?)
How IRS Impersonators Work
The IRS or an IRS-approved collection agency (more below) won’t call and make threats or demand immediate payment. Such calls are the work of an IRS impersonator—and it’s a scam.
IRS-impersonation scams have been around for years, but recently scammers have enhanced their reach with technology. Scammers can contact thousands of people quickly by using auto- or robot-dialing systems and recorded messages.
Autodialing is the use of a computer to dial a phone number (or many phone numbers simultaneously). If the target answers, a live caller might transfer the call. Robodialing is when a computer dials a phone number and the target hears a prerecorded message, with an instruction to press a number to speak to a live person. If someone doesn’t answer the robocall, the computer might leave a message.
Autodialing and robot dialing not only allow scammers to call many phones quickly, but they also serve as a screening device. People who respond to the recorded messages by picking up or calling back may unwittingly signal to scammers that they are vulnerable.
Also, IRS impersonators use “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is coming from a different phone number than the one utilized by the caller. Spoofing helps impersonators hide their location and actual identity. For example, in a recent case, scammers based in India used technology to make it look like their calls were originating in the United States.
Recordings of fake IRS phone calls are available online for you to compare with the call you received. You can find them by searching for “IRS voicemail.”
What to Do If You Receive a Strange Call
If you get a call and you aren’t sure whether it’s legitimate, the IRS advises you to hang up. Keep in mind, however, that recently the IRS started using collection agencies to contact taxpayers about old overdue tax accounts. These agencies might call taxpayers, but they won’t:
- call you to say they’re sending the account to collections
- threaten to have you arrested or deported
- ask you to pay them directly, or
- ask for your credit card number or payment via gift card or prepaid debit card.
The IRS has information online explaining how to spot fake calls. To find out if you owe taxes, you can access your online account at www.irs.gov/uac/view-your-tax-account. You can also contact the IRS using its toll-free number 1-800-829-1040.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How do I know if the call I received saying I owe taxes is real or fake?
- How do I report a scam phone call?
- How do I check my IRS account online?