The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2019 (taxes filed in 2020).
Having a tax lien can affect your credit score and, in extreme cases, result in jail time. That’s why when you get a phone call from the IRS saying that you owe money, don’t take it lightly.
Because of how seriously people take inquiries from the IRS, some criminals see this as a way to scam people out of money. The severity of owing money to the IRS is one that shouldn’t be scoffed at.
Signs of a fraudulent IRS call
Imagine someone calls you claiming to be the IRS saying that you owe money. They threaten some sort of legal or civil action if it’s not paid immediately. They require a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. You pay over the phone and later realize that it was a fake call. You check your account and the money is gone but the actual IRS has no record of the payment.
Before sending any money over the phone, do your research to make sure that you’re not being scammed. What does that research look like? Here are five signs that someone is posing as the IRS and trying to scam you out of money.
You get a phone call or email first
The IRS will never call you regarding money that you owe without first sending a bill in the mail. If this phone call is the first you’re hearing about an issue with your taxes or the IRS, chances are it’s not actually the IRS. Don’t give out your personal information and get as much information from the caller as you can: badge number, call back number, name. Then call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to confirm those details.
The same goes with email. If you receive an email from someone with “IRS” in their name, it’s almost certainly a scam. Official IRS emails will come from “@irs.gov” addresses but, even then, an email will never be how the IRS decides to first contact you about paying off a balance.
If you’ve received a questionable email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
They threaten arrest, deportation or revocation of licenses
In order to incite urgency, scammers often threaten that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay the balance immediately. Sometimes they’ll say that you could be deported or that your driver’s license could be revoked if the payment goes unpaid. This is a red flag.
Although the idea of being arrested for tax reasons is frightening, don’t let that fear turn into nonchalantly sending money to someone. Again, get their information and call the real IRS to confirm whether or not you owe.
You have to pay right now
Scammers will also insist that you have to pay the balance right now. Sometimes they’ll even lower the amount that you owe citing some promotion or one-time-exclusive opportunity. This is fake. The IRS will always give deadlines as to when payments are due and, while there are opportunities to lessen the amount that you owe (if, in fact, you do owe the IRS money), immediacy is seldom a requirement.
The IRS will also allow always you to appeal the amount that you owe so ask what that process looks like and if they say you can’t, that’s a red flag.
They tell you how to pay
The IRS will never dictate how someone can pay their taxes. Scammers, however, often give specific instructions on how these balances can be paid. Usually, either a wire transfer or prepaid debit card transaction, if you have to pay a certain way, it’s a scam.
You have to give credit or debit information over the phone
The IRS will never instruct you to give payment information over the phone. If you realize that you’re reaching for your wallet to read off your credit card number over the phone, that should be a red flag.
The IRS allows taxpayers to pay their taxes in a plethora of ways, but over the phone is not one of them.