Internal Revenue Service impersonation scams are an ongoing problem in the United States. Why? Scammers know nothing motivates more people into sending money without asking questions like threatening them with jail time for delinquent taxes. Fortunately, the position of the IRS is that you are within your rights to hang up on a caller you suspect may be an IRS impersonator, rather than take chances. Once you have hung up, however, you might wish to report the incident. The more information government agencies gather about IRS impersonators, the easier it is to track them down.
How Do IRS Scams Work?
The most common way IRS impersonators contact you is by telephone. They also might send unsolicited text messages, emails, faxes, or letters. These communications can direct you to bogus websites, where you are asked to enter your Social Security number and other personal identifying information. Once obtained, the scammers intend to use your identifying information for identity theft.
It’s important to understand that you can’t trust a call just because it originates from a local number. Scammers often operate over state lines and even from other countries. To help cover their tracks, IRS impersonators often “spoof” their phone numbers, making it look like the call comes from one area code when it fact it’s coming from another.
How to Spot a Scammer
The IRS provides guidelines that will help you tell a fake call from a real one. For instance, if the call is a fake, the IRS impersonator might:
- claim you owe the IRS money even though you haven’t gotten any previous notification
- threaten you with arrest or deportation, or
- ask you to give them your credit card number or a prepaid debit card.
(For more information, read How Will the IRS Contact Me If I Owe Money?)
To Whom Should I Report IRS Impersonation?
The primary agency that investigates cases of IRS impersonation is the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The TIGTA also collaborates with others in its investigations and prosecutions, such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Justice, and various consumer protection agencies.
If an IRS impersonator contacts you, TIGTA has an online form you can fill out to report the incident. You can also call TIGTA at 800-366-4484. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also keeps track of complaints about IRS impersonation. You can file a complaint with the FTC here.
Why It’s Important to Report IRS Impersonation
If you followed the IRS’s advice and hung up on the scammer, you might wonder why should you also take the time to report the incident. Simply put, it helps.
Reports assist federal agencies to track the size and scope of the problem. Since IRS impersonators work on a large scale, one operation can victimize many people, and therefore, when agencies arrest perpetrators, they protect a significant percentage of the public from future fraud.
For instance, a complaint to the Commission on Aging about IRS impersonation led to a TIGTA investigation in which eight suspects got arrested for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. As a result of that same tip, the TIGTA identified another five people one year later.
Also, although it’s unlikely that you’ll get your money back, you’ll have a better chance of it if the IRS impersonator you sent your money to gets arrested.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How can I find out if I owe taxes?
- How do I know if the IRS is trying to contact me?
- What should I do if a scammer gets my information?