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Fake IRS calls scam millions from victims

The call is enough to make even an honest tax-paying citizen’s heart skip a beat.

Someone identifies himself as being with the Internal Revenue Service, and says that the person answering the phone owes back taxes.

The caller, who may identify himself using an IRS badge number, demands that the taxes be paid immediately by giving credit, debit or prepaid card information over the phone. If the call’s recipient protests, the caller can become menacing.

The call is, of course, a scam, and the “badge number” is a fake. The IRS sent out an alert about this earlier this year, but that apparently hasn’t stemmed the tide of calls here and nationwide.

So far, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received 90,000 complaints through its telephone hotline, according to a release it issued jointly with the IRS recently. It also has identified approximately 1,100 victims who’ve been scammed out of an estimated $5 million.

“Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate.”

Delinquent taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies. The IRS never requests immediate payment over the telephone, and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation.

Other characteristics of an IRS scam include:

Scammers who use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

Scammers who may be able to recite the last four digits of a potential victim’s Social Security number.

Scammers who spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

Scammers will sometimes send bogus IRS emails to victims to support their claims when they call.

After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

Koskinen urged people who receive scammers’ calls to hang up immediately and contact the Treasury Inspector General’s office at 800/366-4484. They should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at “IRS Telephone Scam” should be added to the comments of the complaint.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407


If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800/829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800/366-4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
  • Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
  • The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. 

—Internal Revenue Service