Warning: The IRS phone scam is back and more sophisticated than ever

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Warning: The IRS phone scam is back and more sophisticated than ever
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I got a text from a friend of mine telling me about four phone calls he has received lately — all claiming to be from the IRS about supposed lawsuits that are being filed against him.

And he’s not the only one getting these calls. Every day, more and more Americans are being harassed by criminals saying they’re from the IRS — with many people still questioning whether they are real.

In fact, a large number of the recent calls to Clark’s Consumer Action Center, a free help line that’s open 10 a.m to 7 p.m. EST every weekday to answer consumers’ questions, have been about some type of IRS phone scam.

How to spot and avoid an IRS phone call scam

Aggressive and threatening phone calls made by criminals impersonating the IRS continue to be a huge problem in the U.S. So it’s important that people understand not only how widespread and common the threat is, but also how to avoid it.

The scammers are targeting anyone and everyone, so it doesn’t matter if you’re young, old or in the middle — these criminals will do whatever they can to try to steal your information and money.

One thing that’s catching a lot of people off guard is a new way these scams are being carried out — by robocalls.

“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person,’ IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement. ‘Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible.”

And that’s exactly what my friend got.

What the call sounds like

What exactly the recording says may vary, but here’s how it went for my friend:

‘This is the Internal Revenue Service office of legal action. We are filing suit against you for unpaid income taxes. Please call our office at [California phone number].’

When he called back (which isn’t a good idea), someone answered and immediately asked for his personal information.

A Forbes report detailed how another version of the call may go:

‘The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing lawsuit against you. To get more information about this case file, please call immediately on our department number [stated phone number]. I repeat [stated phone number]. Thank you.’ 

Read more: Top 10 scams coming after your money

What to do if you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS

If you know it’s a scam, it may be tempting to call the number back and just let the person have it — bad idea. Any time you are dealing with scammers, you want to stay as far away as possible. By responding, you just give them another opportunity to potentially steal another piece of information from you — information they want to use to get access to your bank account and to carry out other forms of identity theft.

Since there are so many variations of this scam, the best way to avoid getting duped is to know what the IRS will never do.

According to the IRS website, if you get a call about any of the following, hang up immediately:

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you still aren’t sure if it’s a scam or not, here’s what the IRS says you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” page or 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.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

Read more: 4 common phone scams to avoid

How to avoid other common scams

For whatever reason, smartphones have caused people to let their guard down — and now more and more people are falling victim to various scams carried out via phone call, email and text message.

Scammers make themselves look legitimate so you will trust them — and they prey on people’s emotions and fears to get them to make fast decisions, before there’s even time to think it through.

So to help you avoid some common and ongoing scams, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.
  • Take time to research the organization.
  • Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.
  • Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
  • Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
  • If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business directly using the number on your bill or credit card.
  • Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
  • Never send money for an emergency situation unless you can verify the emergency. 

Read more: Don’t fall for these common smartphone scams

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Alex Thomas Sadler About the author: Alex Thomas Sadler
Alex Thomas Sadler is the Managing Editor of Clark.com and Clark Howard Digital Products. Alex is also the host of Common Cents, a new Clark.com series that makes money simple, so you can better understand and take control of your own financial life. Alex graduated from the University of Georgia with bachelor's degrees in ...Read more
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