As a forensic accountant, I know that telephone scams are becoming increasingly more common. However, I was surprised when I actually received a phone call recently with an automated message stating that I needed to call back regarding a serious tax liability. Although I knew it was bogus, I called back and spoke to a gentleman with a foreign accent, purporting to be an IRS representative, who claimed that I owed back taxes which needed to be taken care of immediately. When I explained to the caller that I am a CPA and that I know that the caller was committing fraud, he hung up immediately.
This particular scam is typically prevalent around tax filing deadlines, and I did receive the call just prior to April 15th. Last year, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) issued a warning to taxpayers to be alert for phone calls from cybercriminals, purporting to be from the IRS, claiming that the taxpayer owes taxes and must pay immediately with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. In January 2015, the TIGTA issued a press release reminding taxpayers to be wary and stated that “This scam, which is international in nature, has proven to be the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive, they are relentless and they are ruthless. Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash.” (*)
TIGTA has received reports of roughly 290,000 contacts since October 2013 and has become aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million as a result of the scam. The fraudsters may threaten the victim with arrest, deportation, loss of business or driver’s license.
How to know the call is bogus? The TIGTA explains that the IRS usually contacts people by mail first, rather than by phone regarding unpaid taxes. In addition, the IRS would never ask for payment using a pre-paid debt card or wire transfer or ask for a credit card number over the phone. Furthermore, the IRS would never use email, texting or any social media to contact a taxpayer. Finally, an IRS representative would not use threatening language.
According to the TIGTA, these phone fraudsters often:
- Utilize an automated robocall machine.
- Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
- May know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
- Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
- Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
- Call a second or third time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.
The TIGTA offers advice if you receive a phone call like mine:
- If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
- If you don’t owe taxes, fill out the “IRS Impersonation scam” form on TIGTA’s website, www.treasury.gov/tigta or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
- You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.
By Julia Allen Miessner, CPA, CFF, CGMA