Despite crackdowns that busted several crime rings and resulted in scores of arrests in what reigned as the top scam for three consecutive years, IRS impostors are still going strong, launching two new twists in their long-running schemes that have already bilked U.S. taxpayers of millions.
In one ploy scammers posing as IRS agents are phoning citizens about a supposed tax debt, but are now claiming that the agency has already mailed them two certified letters about overdue taxes and that those letters were returned as “undeliverable.” In these phone calls, fraudsters threaten immediate arrest unless immediate payment is made—with a prepaid debt card only.
Swindlers falsely claim that prepaid debit cards are required to be linked to the government’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), an automated system for paying federal taxes electronically using the internet or by phone using the EFTPS voice response system. EFTPS is offered free by the U.S. Treasury Department and does not require the purchase of a prepaid debit card. And because this system is automated, taxpayers won’t receive a call from the IRS, the agency notes.
The other new ploy, targets tax preparers with bogus emails seeking extensive amounts of sensitive preparer data that the IRS warns could enable scammers to steal client data and file fraudulent tax returns. These bogus emails, purportedly from a major tax software education provider in the U.S. (which the IRS did not identify), claims problems with its database require accountants and other tax preparers to provide an extensive amount of sensitive information.
In addition to professional identifiers such as the preparer’s Electronic Filing Information Number and Preparer Tax Identification Number, these fake emails—which may originate in the U.S.—solicit preparers’ log-in credentials, answers to “secret” security questions, birth dates, Social Security numbers, even the maiden names of their mothers. In a press release, the IRS stated, “The email is unusual for the amount of sensitive preparer data that it seeks. The IRS reminds all tax professionals that legitimate businesses and organizations never ask for usernames, passwords or sensitive data via email. Nor should a preparer ever provide such sensitive information via email if asked.”
As IRS impostor scams continue, your defense plan stays the same. No matter what new ruse follows—what threats or claims are made—avoid being a victim by knowing these telltale indicators of what scammers do but the IRS will not:
- Telephone or email to demand immediate payment, or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. Although the IRS now uses private debt collectors, those four companies—CBE Group, ConServe, Performant and Pioneer Credit Recovery—chase only extremely delinquent taxpayers after several past-due notices have been mailed. And those collectors will not identify themselves as IRS agents like scammers do.
- Demand a specific payment method such as prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
- Request that tax payments be made to a third party. All federal tax payments should be made payable only to the U.S. Treasury.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the telephone.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
When in doubt about claims you owe taxes, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040. If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report requests for payment (and scam calls and emails) to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud. Keep tabs on scams and law enforcement alerts in your area with AARP’s Scam-Tracking Map.