Most people associate tax season with the spring and think their worries are over once April 15 passes. However, scammers work all year round to try to scam money from their victims. The months following the typical tax season can be filled with phone scams from predators claiming to be the IRS. Here’s how you can avoid getting scammed this year and protect your money and your personal identity.
Avoid Answering Numbers You Don’t Recognize
The easiest way to avoid getting scammed by someone claiming to be from the IRS is to avoid engaging with predators. If you see a number that you don’t recognize, don’t answer it. If the caller wants something important then they will leave a voicemail for you. There are additional benefits to screening unknown numbers. After the person calls, you can check the number with CheckThem’s reverse phone lookup service to see if it’s from a legitimate source or something shady. This additional research lets you know whether you should call them back or not.
Screening your calls can also reduce the number of spammers who call you. NPR reported that many people have received silent calls with no one on the other line. These incidents were actually a bot calling to see if the person on the other end would pick up. If they did, the bots sold the number to scammers across the web.
Not everyone can afford to screen their calls. If you need to answer unknown numbers for work, consider getting a work phone or additional number to separate business contacts from personal numbers and scammers.
Learn What IRS Phone Scams Look Like
There are 12 common types of tax scams to look out for, but IRS phone scams are one of the most popular outside of the normal tax season. In these calls, fake IRS agents claim to be auditing, suing, or claiming more funds from you. These calls are often used for blackmail purposes and require the victim to wire money or pay an additional fine via credit card. Victims who don’t pay are often threatened with arrest, jail time, large fines, and lengthy lawsuits that could cost thousands of dollars.
These scams are often effective because they prey on Americans’ fear of being penalized by the IRS. Even careful citizens who fill out their tax forms correctly can fall for these scams because of internal worries that they made a mistake. Recently, the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office posted a warning to citizens getting IRS phone scam calls. Scammers were threatening to arrest local citizens and call law enforcement to take them to jail. By following the news and understanding what IRS phone scams look like, you can learn to ignore predators, no matter how threatening they seem.
Always Contact the IRS Through the Appropriate Channels
If you’re on the phone with someone and you think they might be from the IRS or worry that they’re a scammer, hang up. The best thing you can do in any situation is to end the call and reach out to them yourself. The IRS website has a list of phone numbers you can use to contact representatives and check your tax status. If the numbers don’t match the number that’s calling you, then you’re likely being scammed.
While this advice is practical in most cases, some scammers are getting savvy. The FTC recently shared information about scammers who manipulate their phone numbers to make them look legitimate. The phone number might match your cable company’s number, for instance, when really it’s different number with a mask. This is another reason why hanging up and calling the IRS yourself can ensure you’re actually talking to someone who works for the US government, not a scammer trying to get money from you.
Understand How the IRS Collects Fines and Payment
Once you know what numbers to look out for and how to check their accuracy, you can start to spot IRS phone scams by the behavior of the caller. Oftentimes, the predator on the other line insists that you pay the IRS by wiring money, mailing prepaid debit cards, or giving up your credit and debit card information. They will then either take the money and disappear, or use your card information to further steal your identity.
If someone calls you asking for personal information, never give it away. By understanding how the IRS collects taxes and fines, you can learn how to avoid scams. The IRS accepts check payments or credit card payments through their online system. The representatives will never accept payment over the phone and will never call you demanding payment. Knowing this should give you the confidence to hang up and stop a scammer in their tracks.
Look Out for Recorded Numbers
While this article has mainly focused on live scammers who try to engage in a conversation with the victim, IRS recordings are becoming increasingly popular. When the person answers the call, a recording plays, pretending to be the IRS and providing a number for victims to call to settle their tax forms. The same advice from the rest of the article can be applied to this recording: hang up, look up the actual number for the IRS, and call to make sure your information is secure.
When you do get calls like this, whether they’re recordings or actual people, make sure you report them to the FTC. There’s an easy form to fill out that helps agents track down these scammers so other people aren’t taken as victims. By noting things like the fake number the recording gives or the type of scam the IRS predator is running, you can give a detailed report to help the FTC track them down. Your report might not be the one that ends scam calls, but together the whole nation can work to wipe out these menaces.
There’s no denying that calls from the IRS are terrifying, but spotting a scammer can take the fear out of any call. Keep these tips in mind when you get suspicious calls so you can keep your finances and identity safe.