Not really from the IRS: Spotting scammers

By: David S. De Jong

Related Attorney(s): Eric J. RollingerMark W. SchweighoferDavid B. Torchinsky

Media Type: Alert

A century after Charles Ponzi initiated the most infamous of scams, a new one is rampant involving demands for money or private information by individuals posing as agents of the Internal Revenue Service.

A number of Stein Sperling clients have received phone calls or emails from these scammers whose communications seem realistic – to a point.
In the typical call, using caller identification software to make it appear that IRS is the originator, the individual is told that he or she owes back taxes and must immediately wire funds or purchase prepaid debit cards. The call warns of arrest or other dire consequences for failing to comply. Often, a voicemail will be left with a fake name and phony IRS badge number. An alternative phone scam has the caller seeking bank information in order to wire an alleged tax refund.

In the email scam, the person is sent a somewhat realistic looking IRS form to be returned with several lines modified asking for full social security number, bank account number and even mother’s maiden name.

The Treasury General for Tax Administration reports that IRS scammers are known to have received in excess of $14 million from almost 3,000 victims. Many have been senior citizens or recent immigrants to the United States. IRS asks that scammers be reported to the Treasury Inspector General of Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 and to the Federal Trade Commission at However, the agencies appear to lack resources to deal with the almost 300,000 reports of scam calls.

How can you identify a scam phone call or other communication?

  • IRS has ceased using outgoing electronic communications in taxpayer matters.
  • IRS gives deadlines for payments that may provide short notice but are rarely immediate.
  • IRS does not require that payment be made in a specific manner.
  • IRS does not ask for debit or credit card information over the phone.
  • IRS does not use local police to make an arrest.
  • If you owe money, you will have first gotten a series of notices over time – not a surprise phone call demanding payment.

If you receive a call from the IRS and are in doubt as to its authenticity, tell the caller your tax professional will be back in touch and discontinue the call. A legitimate number to verify a balance owed for any year is 1-800-829-1040.

Should you have any questions about contact from the IRS or other tax issues, please call a member of our Tax Law department at 301-340-2020.

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