IRS Phone Scams and How to Spot Them

Jul 20, 2016 | Blog

Headlining the annual IRS “Dirty Dozen” list of common tax scams for 2016 was the menace of threatening phone calls to taxpayers by criminals impersonating IRS agents, usually demanding immediate payment of bogus back taxes. These schemes are most frequently seen during filing season as people are busy preparing their tax returns, but they can occur anytime during the year.

These IRS phone scams have become increasingly aggressive as scam artists threaten their victims with license revocation, police arrest, or even deportation in order to convince unassuming taxpayers to pay up. They convince their victims to send cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, and may also leave urgent callback requests via a phishing email or phone “robo-calls”.

As an experienced tax lawyer in San Mateo, what concerns me most about this scam is that some victims actually believe that these tactics are nothing more than IRS harassment that the agency employs in an effort to collect on delinquent tax bills. Even more worrisome is how often these sorts of scams actually seem to be successful. Since October 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of nearly 900,000 IRS phone scam attempts, of which approximately 5,000 victims have collectively paid over $26 million to con artists!


When calling victims, scammers will often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is actually calling. To make the call sound official, scammers mislead callers by using IRS titles and fake badge numbers, and may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information.

There are many variations to these IRS phone scams, and some callers may even tell victims that they are entitled to additional refunds to trick them into providing bank account information. Luckily, there are some simple tips that can help protect taxpayers from falling victim to these schemes:

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment, or call about owed taxes without mailing you a bill.
  • Use unsolicited email, text messages or social media platforms to discuss tax issues.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount.
  • Require that you use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups if you refuse to pay.

If you get a call that you suspect is an IRS phone scam:

  • Hang up immediately, without giving out or confirming any information.
  • Report the call to TIGTA by calling 800-366-4484, or use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page.
  • Report calls to the Federal Trade Commission by using their website’s “FTC Complaint Assistant” tool, and remember to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you may owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040 for help with a payment issue.

Our expert tax lawyers in San Mateo have nearly two decades of experience in helping our clients save money and resolve their issues with the IRS. If you need assistance in handling any type of tax problem, contact us for a free consultation today!