The U.S. federal tax filing deadline is around the corner, and many are scrambling to finish their returns, as well as digging deep to come up with the money necessary to pay their tax bills. A few may find themselves receiving any of a variety of follow-up communications and queries from the IRS about minor discrepancies or other issues related to their filings, but for the vast majority of us, tax season will prove to be uneventful, once again. This said, the fact that we are all just one minor error away from receiving a communication from the IRS means that if we do receive such a communication, we’re not inclined to react to it as though getting it was out of the realm of possibility all along. On that basis, then, a vicious scam targeting American taxpayers has proven to be all-too-successful: people pretending to be IRS agents, calling innocent taxpayers who have no legitimate payment obligation to the IRS, and demanding money, as well as threatening the taxpayers that they’ll face jail time if they do not cough up the dough. According to a recent disclosure by IRS Deputy Inspector General Timothy Camus made before Congress, the fake IRS agent scam has, since October 2013, targeted well over a third of a million Americans, and successfully fleeced over 3,000 of them out of nearly $16 million.
As with all effective scammers, much of their success lies in their ability to come off as instantly credible. To make communications seem as though they’re official-looking emails (although the scam most at issue now is not email-based) and official-sounding phone calls does not require much more than an attention to detail and a little advance practice, and for the taxpayers receiving them, they are caught entirely unawares.
In the effort to keep yourself safe, perhaps the first, and most important, piece of information of which to be mindful is that the IRS will not make its first communication to you in the form of a phone call. While most people have not run afoul of the IRS in any serious fashion, many have been contacted over the years about minor issues, like discrepancies with Social Security numbers (something that happens a lot after changes in marital status, for example), small underpayments of taxes based on miscalculations made in filings, and the like. In no case, I’ll wager, has anyone in that position ever received his contact from the IRS by telephone. The IRS does not call out of the blue, and if you are genuinely communicating with the IRS by telephone about a particular issue, it’s only after several back-and-forth exchanges by mail have brought the matter to that point. As for email exchanges, the IRS simply does not communicate in that manner with taxpayers.
Accordingly, part of being aware, and benefitting from that awareness, is to train oneself to remember that if you do receive a phone call out of the blue from someone purporting to be an IRS representative, your first reaction should be to disbelieve the legitimacy of the call. Again, this will be a tough thing for many to do, so accustomed are we to accepting what others tell us, and more so when the person on the other end of the phone is overtly representing himself to be someone of the stature of an IRS representative. However, should you receive a communication…phone call or email…that is supposedly from the IRS, the single best way to handle it is to immediately disengage from it, and contact the IRS separately yourself. This is how I suggest handling all unusual communications from any business or organization; just hang up, get up from your computer, whatever…and separately contact whoever it is to find out if you have an outstanding issue. The fact remains that as ridiculous as we know the IRS to be in how it operates, at times, they simply do not call taxpayers unexpectedly, demanding payment and threatening jail time – they just don’t…so don’t you fall for any such scam; just hang up the phone quickly, and if you have any questions about your current status with the IRS, call them separately at 800-829-1040, Monday through Friday, anytime between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. in your local time zone.
The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.