We’ve all heard of the spurious e-mails purported to be from executors of the estate of Nigerian princes or other obscure foreign notables looking to give away millions of dollars. Similarly fictitious phone calls tell the recipient they can win a lottery sweepstakes or receive debt relief.
But one of the most effective and dangerous telephone scams today attempts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service.
The phone rings, and a very aggressive person on the other end of the line states that you owe money to the IRS. This debt, you are told, must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If you refuse to cooperate (as, of course, you should), you’re threatened with arrest, suspension of a driver’s license, or revocation of a business license. In the case of recent immigrants, the caller may also threaten deportation.
In the most sophisticated calls, the scammer may know (and recite) the last four digits of your Social Security number and may even use electronic spoofing to make it appear on caller ID that the calling number comes from IRS headquarters. A forged follow-up e-mail may be sent to support the fake call, and occasionally a second call is received from an individual professing to be from the local police or the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The goal, of course, is to scare you out of your wits so sufficiently that you’ll make a payment. In all, the IRS says that 5,000 victims have collectively paid over $26.5 million to tax scammers.
A more recent version of the scam involves a less aggressive phone call from an individual pretending to be an IRS agent, stating that he or she wants to verify your tax information for processing purposes. The scam artists claim they’re reviewing your tax return and need a few additional pieces of information. The goal is to obtain your personal information such as Social Security number, bank account numbers, or credit card information that can then be used for identity theft.
The IRS assures taxpayers that it will not call demanding immediate payment, nor will it call to notify you of outstanding taxes without first sending a bill in the mail. The IRS never asks for credit card information over the phone, and it never requests prepaid debit card or wire transfer payments. Furthermore, it never asks you to divulge personal information by phone or email or demands payment without providing an opportunity to appeal the amount owed.