Saturday, July 12, 2014

Don't Fall For IRS Summer Scams

Friday I got a robocall from the IRS.  My caller ID displayed an unknown phone number, which was my first indication that this was probably not legitimate.  Then the robocall instructed me to call a toll free hotline within the next 24 hours and no further legal action would be taken.  Something tells me whoever was calling was trying to scare me and expected me to quickly call the number they left.  I mean, "IRS" and "legal action" are the two terms that when used close together you never want to hear, right?

Well, let's just say, boy did they pick the wrong mark.

I worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury for over 20 years.  Two of those years were in the IRS as a personnel clerk.  When I think of IRS, I don't think of jackbooted agents grimly coming to drag me to debtor's prison because I made a mistake on a tax form.  I think of former employers and coworkers whom I liked a lot.  I also have an accountant do my taxes and if there was a problem, I'd simply contact him and we'd both go straighten it out after an audit.  Big deal.  I keep my records and if I had to pay a penalty for a mistake, I'd pay and then question that accountant very carefully.  But one thing I know, nobody would be calling me on the phone to settle it.  And certainly not by robocall.

That's not how IRS works.  There have been far nastier scams than the one I got.  Long past tax season, scammers are still calling and posing as IRS agents, threatening to revoke people's drivers licenses, shut down their businesses, garnish their wages, and jail them.  To avoid dire consequences, they demand payments on preloaded debit cards that can't be traced.  These people can often quote the last four digits of a person's credit card and they will give you fake badge numbers. Boy I wish I had gotten one of those.  I would have enjoyed patiently explaining real IRS procedure to them before threatening legal action of my own.

The first thing to remember is that the IRS will never demand any personal information from you on the phone and they certainly don't demand payment of preloaded debit or credit cards. 

If you get a call here's what you should do:
The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they do it by postal mail, not by phone. Read Government Imposter Scams for more tips on avoiding a scam. 
And what if you got a robocall from Heather or someone else? In addition to reporting it:
  • Hang up the phone. Don't press 1 to speak to a live operator and don't press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.
  • Consider contacting your phone provider and asking them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.
Also, it would be a good idea not to call any number that they leave on your voice mail because it's most likely not really an IRS number.  

The IRS may be guilty of a lot of things, but they do want people do know about these scams and they put out official notices:  here and here.

So, don't reflexively jump up if you get a call from somebody claiming to be from IRS.  That's not how they roll.

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