"Hello: This is the IRS"


Question: My husband and I live in Carmel Valley, CA.  Last week we received a voicemail from a gentleman who said he was with the IRS and that we had a tax problem.  He advised us  we should call him back right away, or consult with our attorney, and he left a phone number with a Washington D.C. area code.  We called our tax practitioner who told us it might be a scam. She called the telephone number and someone answered immediately and said: “IRS, John speaking.”  She then stated that she was returning his call on behalf of her client.  "John" immediately hung up on her.  Can you please write about this in your column to let others be aware?

Answer: Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if the real IRS would answer your phone call right away?  If you haven’t called them for a while, it’s quite an experience.  After you select your preferred language and listen to a menu of options, you get several minutes of various recorded messages.  Disregarding the fact that if you are Internet savvy and you have probably already researched your question on their website, you will hear all about how easy it is to do so.  Lots of taxpayers must call asking about their refund, because you will hear several minutes of how to check the status online or on the phone.  Once you finish with the phone tree and recordings, you will likely be advised that there is a 30-60 minute waiting period to speak to an agent.  Call 1-800-829-1040 and see for yourself.

There must be a whole lot of telephone scams like the one you received, because according to an IRS news release just last week, 90,000 callers have called the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s (TIGTA) hotline (1-800-366-4484) and complained about receiving unsolicited calls from individuals claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payments.  According to the IRS, 1,100 victims have lost around $5 million from these scams.   No doubt there are thousands more who didn’t bother to call or had figured out it was a scam and told the caller to buzz off.

It’s important to know that the IRS will always send official correspondence through the mail as their first method of contacting you.  And if you receive a threatening call urging immediate payment, write down as much information as you can and report it to the TIGTA hotline or the IRS. The IRS also wants you to know that they:

  • Never ask for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insist that you use a specific payment method to pay your tax obligation.
  • Never request immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversion.

Be aware that scammers can be clever.  Here are some of the deceptive tactics that they may use:

  • Use fake names and IRS badge numbers.
  • They might know some personal information about you including your social security number.
  • Make your caller ID display an IRS phone number.
  • Send you a bogus email to support their bogus phone call.
  • Add background noise to the conversation to sound like an IRS call facility.
  • Threaten you with jail time or driver’s license revocation.