Telephone scams are common and unexpected. They are often successful because they make claims that scare us into action. We have a problem with our computer. The IRS needs to speak to us about an urgent matter. There is some other impending doom that will befall you if you don’t act now.
That’s also how to spot a scam. The urgency. The life or death tone of the message, and it is often a message, not a real person on the line.
Just today, I received a call from a DC phone number. I saw 202-241-7215 was calling me, so I picked up the phone and said hello. Immediately, I heard the recording. It said the following.
“This is Julie Smith from the Internal Revenue Service. You need to call us back before we take action against you. Call us back at this number.”
Immediately, alarm bells went off in my head.
- I had received nothing in the mail and no prior communication from the IRS about anything.
- This was a recording, not a live person. This seemed really suspicious.
- There was no mention of a case number or reference number to note when I call back.
I typed the number into Google and the results were what I expected.
I read the first result and it notes no answer or someone with a middle eastern accent.
Looking further down the page, I see a link for the FTC about Fake IRS collectors calling. Bingo! They’ve been at this for a while.
if you receive a call that sounds suspicious, it probably is. Remember, if the IRS is calling you they will know the following information about you:
- Your name
- Your address
Do not give this information away. The scammer will often ask you to verify it. But instead, tell them if they’re the IRS, they will already have this information and they need to verify it with you. At this point they will often hang up, or continue to try to talk you into giving up your information.
The FTC lists some good tips too.
- don’t provide any account or other personal information. Hang up the phone.
never wire money to a person or company you don’t know. Once you wire money, you can’t get it back.
if you owe – or think you owe – federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. You also can visit the IRS website at irs.gov.
if you’ve already paid your taxes, call and report the incident to TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
forward emails from the IRS to email@example.com. Don’t open any attachments or click on any links in those emails.
file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. Include “IRS Telephone Scam” in your complaint.
The best defense against scams is your own common sense. If something sounds suspicious, it probably is. If you ever have a question about a call, type the number into Google and read the results.
Before you ever send anyone money, lookup the agency’s phone number and call them directly. They will be able to tell you if the call was legit or not.