You’re at the grocery store, and your phone rings. A threatening voice, claiming to be an Officer of the IRS – complete with a badge number – tells you you owe money to the IRS, and if you don’t pay a certain amount of money right now to suppress an arrest warrant, the police will be at your house when you get home. Sounds frightening, right? Scammers use scare tactics like this every day to trick law-abiding, responsible consumers out of their money.
In fact, as of the end of June, more than 8,000 tax collection scams have been reported to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker, including 50 in Golden Gate BBB’s service area (Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties). The tax scam was BBB’s #1 scam of 2015 and so far this year is the most highly-reported scam both nationally and locally.
IRS phone scams are a nationwide problem around filing season – so much so that “aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents” tops the IRS’ own list of tax scams for the 2016 filing season (IRS.gov). These calls are dangerous and pose a real risk to taxpayers – threats of arrest, deportation, and license revocation are all scary prospects that may convince someone to act quickly and pay in the heat of the moment. High pressure tactics are meant to provoke this response, but just remember: the IRS will only initiate contact through mail. Simply put by IRS Commissioner John Koskinene: “if you’re surprised to be hearing from us, you’re not hearing from us.”
This may be common knowledge to adults, but scammers are now turning to a more vulnerable demographic: students. These scams threaten arrest for tax evasion because of a failure to pay a “federal student tax”. It’s important that the whole family is educated on scam threats: always be wary if you’re being asked to act immediately, and contact the IRS directly if you’re unsure. Additionally, report suspicious IRS-related communication to email@example.com and BBB Scam Tracker (along with any other scams) to help bring attention to the problem and help protect your fellow consumers. Here are some tips to protect yourself against these and other tax scams:
- To check if the person calling you is really from the IRS or if you actually owe taxes, call them directly at 800-829-1040. Keep in mind that the IRS won’t call, text, email, or reach out to you through social media first.
- Be cautious if you’re asked to act immediately, or pay through a prepaid debit card, gift card, or money transfer. Scammers use threatening scare tactics to try to force you to act quickly before you can think things through and realize you’re being tricked. They also want you to use payment methods that aren’t traceable or refundable. Using a credit card offers more protection against fraudulent transactions.
- If you receive a scam email or phone call from the “IRS”, don’t give out any information or click on any links or attachments. Report it to the IRS, the FTC, and BBB Scam Tracker.