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US Taxpayer Beware: IRS Phone Scams and Phishing

3/1/2020 Anant Goel

IRS impersonation phone scams, as well as phishing continue to be a serious threat to U.S. taxpayers… and it tops the list of the IRS "Dirty Dozen" tax schemes once again.

According to the IRS, over 1,029,601 Americans have received threatening calls, and $29,100,604 has been reported lost to these call scams as of March, 2016. The problem has been assigned to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax  Administration.

Phishing email scams continue to be pervasive as well. Illegal scams such as these can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecutes the criminals behind them.

Both IRS impersonation phone scams and phishing are on the list of the annual IRS list of "Dirty Dozen" tax schemes. Compiled annually, the "Dirty Dozen" lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or find people to help with their taxes.

IRS Impersonation Phone Scams

Phone scams, which have hit taxpayers in every State in the country, top the "Dirty Dozen" list this year because it has been a persistent and pervasive problem for many taxpayers for many months.

Here's how it works…

Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. Anyone who refuses to pay is threatened with immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver's license.

Scammers are able to alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave "urgent" callback requests.

They prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. Scammers have also been known to impersonate agents from IRS Criminal Investigation as well.

"It is critical that all taxpayers continue to be wary of unsolicited telephone calls from individuals claiming to be IRS employees," said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George. "This scam, which is international in nature, has proven to be the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive, they are relentless, and they are ruthless. Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash."

Taxpayers should keep the following in mind:

  • The IRS usually first contacts people by mail--not by phone--about unpaid taxes.
  • The IRS won't ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.
  • The IRS also won't ask for a credit card number over the phone.
  • The IRS will never threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

Phishing Email Scams

Phishing is a scam that is typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

"The IRS won't send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don't click on one claiming to be from the IRS that takes you by surprise," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "I urge taxpayers to be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information."

How to Protect Yourself

Don't be fooled. These con artists can sound convincing when they call and they may know a lot about you.

"These criminals try to scare and shock you into providing personal financial information on the spot while you are off guard," Koskinen said. "Don't be taken in and don't engage these people over the phone."

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here's what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
  • If you know you don't owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at
  • If you've been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their "FTC Complaint Assistant" at Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to

If you think you've been a victim of an IRS impersonation phone scam or phishing don't hesitate to call TIGTA at [1-800-366-4484] or contact

 [Curated content based on excerpts from posts, blogs, media articles, and sponsored research]

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