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Advice & More February 2018

Tax Scams Always Heat Up in Tax Season… but they Never Lose their Flavor

By Teresa Ambord

The IRS telephone scam is one of the most pervasive scams outthere, right now, and those criminals tend to target seniors. Even tax professionals themselves are sometimes fooled by these schemes, in fact, the former director of the IRS himself got a scam call.

IRS impostor schemes are always in search of victims, but even more so during tax filing season. That’s because from January through mid-April, every year, the IRS is top-of-mind; for many of us, like an unwelcome guest that won’t leave.

Low income or high, most of us are dealing with the IRS in some way. Assuming you file a tax return, you’re waiting for a refund, trying to calculate and minimize your tax bill, or seeking advice from someone with more tax knowledge than you have. So when the phone rings and the caller ID says IRS, even the strongest men may go weak in the knees and may fall for a scam call. That’s why, if you have elderly parents or friends, especially those who live on their own, you need to warn them about bogus calls from the IRS that could cost them dearly.

Michael Raanan, former IRS agent (now the president of Landmark Tax Group in California) says that the IRS telephone scam is one of the most pervasive scams out there, right now, and those criminals tend to target seniors. Even tax professionals themselves are sometimes fooled by these schemes, in fact, the former director of the IRS himself got a scam call. I was an accountant for years, and an Enrolled Agent with the IRS, and now I write warnings about scams every month. Yet when my phone rang and it was an angry “I’m from the IRS” robo-call, it took me aback for a moment. I typed the phone number into a browser and up came a list of complaints from others who had gotten these calls. I sent the phone number to the IRS scam line and then deleted it.

Every year, the IRS reminds us to beware of these calls. But scammers continually change their tactics, just enough that they will fool some more people. Lately it seems, they’ve been using this scenario: the phone rings, with a caller ID saying it’s the IRS. The “agent” gives a fake badge number to add credibility. The caller doesn’t ask to speak to anyone particular (or it might be a robo-call), and begins aggressively accusing the victim of being delinquent on his or her tax bill. If you don’t pay immediately, using a gift card or wire transfer, says the caller, you face possible arrest, deportation, loss of your driver license, or worse. It’s unnerving, and many people fall for it because it happens too fast to think clearly.


Some Variations on the Scheme

Taking a counter-approach, instead of demanding payment, callers may inform you that you’re due for a refund. That’s good news! But first, the agent needs to verify that he’s reached the right person, and asks you to identify yourself with details such as your Social Security number. Oh, and, the only way this refund can be paid out is by direct deposit. So you’ll need to supply your bank account information.

Fake agents may also call and, in a very reasonable tone, simply tell you that he (or she) has your tax return in hand, but there are a few unclear details you need to clear up. The bogus agent may know some things about you, such as your marital status and the last four digits of your Social Security number, and ask you to prove you are you, by supplying the rest of your Social Security number, which he says he is looking at on the tax return you filed. Obviously, the agent is phishing for your identity.

Once again, the IRS reminds us:

  • The IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer by phone, email, or social media. If they need to talk to you, they will generally contact you by snail mail first.
  • IRS agents don’t call to demand immediate payment, especially with a particular method (such as a wire transfer, gift card).
  • They will not demand payment without giving you a chance to question the amount they claim you owe.
  • hey will not ask for credit/debit/bank account numbers on the phone or by email.

The IRS adds this: if you don’t owe tax or have no reason to believe that you might owe tax, hang up the phone immediately. Don’t give out any information, don’t vent your anger, and don’t follow the caller’s directions, such as “press 1 to speak to a supervisor.

If you think you may indeed owe taxes, hang up. Then call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and ask for help.

If you receive an email that claims to be from the IRS and you suspect it’s a fake, forward it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The IRS is overwhelmed with such messages, but they do keep track of
which scams are heating up, and that allows them to designate resources to stop the scammers. Forwarding a fake IRS message could make you an unsung hero, but a hero nonetheless.


Teresa Ambord calls herself a recovering accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, surrounded by her small dog posse.

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