The surge of automated, or “robo-call,” phone scams seen over the summer has picked up again. Earlier this year, the IRS reported it had already seen approximately a 400% surge in activity by February 16, 2016. Its consumer alert notified taxpayers that various scams had been reported in the forms of fraudulent emails, text messages, phone calls and voicemails, and fake websites designed to look like the IRS. While individual taxpayers are the usual target, an increasing number of schemes have focused on a broader range of the tax community, including payroll and human resources employees and tax professionals.
The scams commonly take the form of messages claiming to be the last warning before legal action, and requesting an immediate response in order to settle a tax bill. Taxpayers are threatened, such as with arrest, deportation, revocation of their driver’s license, or seizures of their bank accounts or other assets, if they don’t immediately provide the caller with personal information or payments. A recent scam claims the recipient has failed to pay their “Federal Student Tax” – which does not exist – and threatens to report the student to police to be arrested if the taxpayer does not provide payment over the phone. Scammers have received payments from victims through mailed payments, bank wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, iTunes cards, and other gift cards.
A recent robo-call scam doesn’t even identify itself initially as an IRS or tax matter. Calls and automated voicemails are left daily, even multiple times a day, that warn the recipient that a lawsuit has been filed against them, and to respond immediately in order to avoid legal action against them. When the call is returned, the person on the other end identifies himself as the IRS and requests information, such as bank account numbers, and threatens that the victim’s bank accounts and other assets will be seized if they fail to cooperate.
Not all schemes have involved threats or claims of tax bills. Particularly during the filing season, taxpayers reported receiving telephone calls from scammers claiming to be IRS agents calling to verify their tax return information. In a recent scam targeted at both individuals and tax professionals, emails appear to come from tax software companies and request that the recipient download and install a recent update of the program. The phishing scheme targets taxpayers’ personal information, including account logins, passwords, and other sensitive data by tracking the recipient’s keystrokes through the program installed on the recipient’s computer.
It’s important to know that the IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media to request information or tax payments. IRS agents also rarely contact taxpayers by phone, and they are required to provide their name and badge number when they do. The IRS typically communicates with taxpayers by mail or fax. For correspondence received by mail or fax, taxpayers can verify that they have received a legitimate document from the IRS by looking up the letter, notice, or form number on the IRS’s website.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to notify them immediately if you suspect you have received a fraudulent communication from someone claiming to be from the IRS. Additionally, if you suspect you have become a victim of identity theft, the IRS provides information and assistance, such as requesting identity theft protection on your account or obtaining a copy of a fraudulent tax return.