Beware of these telephone scams — victims are piling up

By Robert E. Holtfreter, Ph.D., CFE, CICA

robert-holtfreter-80x80.jpgTaking Back the ID

Duke Franklin received a telephone call before the tax-filing deadline purportedly from a U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) representative who said that Franklin owed back taxes and had to pay them immediately. Franklin wired the money to the fraudster. But he had fallen for a new, very lucrative taxpayer scam. Though this particular story is fictitious, the fraud is very real.


On March 20, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) issued a warning to taxpayers to be alert for bogus telephone calls from cybercriminals — purporting to be from the IRS — claiming that they owe taxes and must pay immediately with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

The fraudsters threaten balking taxpayers with arrest, deportation or loss of business or driver's licenses. The TIGTA said that this is the largest scam of its kind that it's seen; the agency has received more than 20,000 related reports with thousands of taxpayers bilked out of more than $1 million so far. (See TIGTA Warns of ‘Largest Ever' Phone Fraud Scam Targeting Taxpayers.)

Cybercriminals have hit taxpayers in every state in the U.S. with this scam — usually during the tax-filing season.

The TIGTA said that "the IRS usually first contacts people by mail — not by phone — about unpaid taxes. And the IRS won't ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won't ask for a credit card number over the phone." Also, an IRS agent would never use email, texting or any social media to contact taxpayers or use threatening language in dealing with them, according to the release. According to the TIGTA, the callers who commit this fraud often:

  • Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • Know the last four digits of the victim's Social Security number.
  • Display bogus IRS caller ID information on phones.
  • Send bogus IRS emails to support their scams.
  • Call a second 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 such a telephone call asking for a payment:

  • If you owe federal taxes, or think you may owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. IRS workers can help you with payment questions.
  • If you don't owe taxes, call and report the incident to TIGTA at (800) 366-4484.
  • You also can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.

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