Is the IRS Calling?

It’s that time of year again; spring flowers, spring cleaning and tax returns. We can now add to this seasonal list IRS phishing phone calls. We at Pauley Financial would like to bring your attention to a scam that a few of our clients and friends have directly experienced. In addition, there are some action items you can take should you become a target. We encourage you to remain cyber security vigilant – it’s simply part of the new normal.

Most people have seen bogus emails purported to be from the executors of the Nigerian prince or other obscure foreign notables who want to give away millions of dollars. Some people have received calls telling them they can win a lottery sweepstakes or receive debt relief. These scams are preposterous enough that they are met with limited success. However, one of the most effective telephone scams today involves what appears to be a call from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The phone rings and a very aggressive person on the other end of the line tells you that you owe money to the IRS. This debt, you are told, must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If you refuse to cooperate (as of course you should), you’re threatened with arrest, suspension of a driver’s license or revocation of a business license. In the case of recent immigrants, the caller may also threaten deportation.

A friend of ours received such a call on February 15th – President’s Day. First clue? President’s Day is a Federal holiday. In another example, a friend/CPA received such a call and was told that the local police were on their way over. She cleverly replied, “Great, I’ll put some coffee on”. The caller quickly lost interest. In the most sophisticated calls, the scammer may know (and recite) the last four digits of your Social Security number and may even use electronic spoofing to make it appear on your phone’s caller ID that the calling number comes from the IRS headquarters. A phishing follow-up email may be sent to support the bogus call. Sometimes, there can be a follow-up call from an individual who is pretending to be from the local police or the Department of Motor Vehicles.The goal, of course, is to scare you out of your wits – enough so that you’ll make a payment so the federal authorities will go away and leave you alone.

In all, the IRS says that 5,000 victims have collectively paid over $26.5 million to IRS scammers. A more recent version of the scam involves a less aggressive phone call from someone pretending to be an IRS agent who says he or she wants to verify your tax information so your forms can be processed. The scam artists say they’re looking at your tax return and need a few additional items. The goal here is to gain personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account numbers or credit card information that can then be used for identity theft scams.

The IRS has assured the public that it never asks for credit card information over the phone. They never requests prepaid debit card or wire transfer payments either. They never ask for you to divulge personal information by phone or email or demand payment without giving you an opportunity to appeal the amount. If you receive a call that threatens police action and demands immediate payment, that is a certain indication that the caller does NOT represent the IRS. Generally, taxpayers who have a legitimate tax issue, are contacted by mail.

If you receive one of these bogus calls, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General at. And if you get an email that purports to be from the IRS, make sure you don’t click on any attachments. Instead, forward the email in its entirety to phishing@IRS.gov

We expect these scams could increase as we approach the tax filing deadline of April 18th. Stay vigilant!