What should you do when you get a call from a person purporting to be from the IRS?

It seems as though one of the many nuisances of modern life are calls from people who purport to be from the IRS: they call to say you are in serious trouble, your wages and bank accounts are about to be garnished and that the only way to avoid this happening is by immediately wiring money to their “office”.  They sometimes even say that the police are on their way to your home to issue a warrant. The first thing you should do (besides laughing in their face) is to calm down. This is a scam – the IRS will never call you at home (even if you do owe them money) without first having written you a notice of their claim. They also do not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues.

This problem has been growing and many people have experienced it. The IRS has received over 1.5 million reports of tax scammers impersonating agents (and this is assumed to be the tip of the iceberg – most calls go unreported).

There are now up to 3,000 IRS employees who are involved in the fight and they are taking aggressive actions to combat the problem.

First, if you receive a call, here are some things you can do:

  • If you know you don’t owe taxes and have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident IMMEDIATELY to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1 (800) 366-4484 or at tigta.gov.
  • You can also file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

Now here’s the cool part: when the IRS receives a report, it calls the number and informs the tax scammers that they are subject to federal prosecution. It then calls the phone company providing service to that number and arranges for their phone lines to be disconnected. The IRS can also take more aggressive steps by taking a page right out of the hacker playbook: it can orchestrate a “denial of service” attack on the scammers and flood them with calls that make it difficult for them to even use their phone lines.

So the moral of this story is not just to slam down the phone when these calls happen – report it to the IRS; they will take action to attempt to shut down the perpetrators.