WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers with limited English proficiency of phone scams and email phishing schemes that continue to occur across the country.
Con artists often approach victims in their native language, threaten them with deportation, police arrest and license revocation, among other things.
“These scammers continue to adapt and evolve, and the IRS continues to receive reports of these schemes using multiple languages trying to find victims across the country,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Don’t be fooled. Regardless of the language being used, the IRS won’t be calling out of the blue to verify your personal tax information or threaten you to make an immediate tax payment using a specific method of payment, such as on a pre-paid debit card," Koskinen said.
How do scams work?
Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials, and they can use different languages besides English. They tell their victims they owe the IRS money and must pay it promptly through a preloaded debit card, gift card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls” or via a phishing email. If the victim refuses to cooperate, the caller becomes hostile and insulting and may threaten arrest, deportation or revocation of a driver’s or professional license.
Alternately, scammers can politely begin asking taxpayers to verify their identity over the phone. They may say they have their tax return, and they just need to verify a few details to process the return. They may also tell their victims they have a refund due to trick them into sharing private information such as Social Security numbers or personal financial information, such as bank or credit cards numbers.
These con artists can sound convincing. They use fake names and IRS identification numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official. They often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling.
In recent years, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams and fake communication purportedly from the IRS. The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against these cons and similar tactics, as they continually change. The IRS, states and the tax industry came together in 2015 to launch a public awareness campaign called Taxes. Security. Together. The goal is to educate taxpayers about the need to maintain their security online and to recognize and avoid different types of scams and schemes.
How private debt collection works
The IRS also reminded people to be on the lookout for scam artists trying to dupe taxpayers as the private debt collection program begins.
Starting this month, a new program starts that will transfer some long-standing tax bills over to private firms. The only outside agencies authorized to contact taxpayers about their unpaid tax accounts will be one of four firms authorized under the new private debt collection program. Even then, any affected taxpayer will be notified first by the IRS, not the private collection firm.
The private debt collection program, authorized under a federal law enacted by Congress in 2015, enables designated contractors to collect tax payments on the government’s behalf. The IRS will give taxpayers and their representative written notice when their account is being transferred to a private collection firm. The company will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming this transfer. Information contained in these letters will help taxpayers identify the tax amount owed and help ensure that future collection calls are legitimate.
Here are four things scammers often do but the IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will not do. Any one of these things is a telltale sign of a scam – regardless of the language used.
The IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer deported or arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
The IRS reminds non-native English speakers this tax season that they can easily identify when a caller supposedly from the IRS is a fake.
For taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or don’t think they do:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. Alternatively, call 800-366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more information, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.
Also, each taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore these rights and the agency’s obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.