No, the IRS Is Not Calling You to Collect a Tax Debt
Imagine getting this shocking message on your phone:
“Hi. This message is intended to contact you. My name is Steve Martin. And I’m calling regarding an enforcement action executed by U.S. Treasury intending your serious attention. Ignoring this will be an intentional second attempt to avoid initial appearance before a magistrate judge or a grand jury for a federal criminal offense. My number is 904-638-9127. I’ll repeat: 904-638-9127. I’d like you to cooperate with us and help us to help you. Thank you.”
That message was left recently on my home phone five separate times in a week. That makes me one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans robocalled by a scammer pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the folks that collect federal taxes. This scam is so widespread that a leader at the IRS called it “the largest, most pervasive impersonation scam” in IRS history.
Here’s how the scam works: A caller claims to be from the IRS. He or she may even appear to have an IRS phone number. If you don’t answer, the scammer leaves an “urgent” message, demanding that you call back right away or something awful will happen. If the scammer gets you on the line, he or she is likely to threaten you with a lawsuit, or jail, or worse. Unless you pay up. Now. Thousands of Americans have lost upwards of $14 million to crooks like these.
It’s easy to see why people are frightened into sending money to these scammers. They are ‘aggressive, relentless and ruthless,’ according to J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and “they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash.”
Dozens of consumers shared their stories about IRS-imposter robocalls and have joined together to end robocalls. Here are just a few of their experiences:
Melanie, Denver, CO:
Just yesterday, I received a robocall from someone stating that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against me. I work in the cyber security industry and consistently hear about vicious attacks both electronic and otherwise and knew right away that this was a scam, yet the message remained no less unsettling. Sadly, I know many Americans will fall for this scam and ultimately lose their hard earned money to some off-shore hate group.
Ed, Pitts, PA:
I have received two unsolicited phone calls on my cell claiming to be from the “IRS” over the past three weeks. I know it’s a scam, and I just hung up on them. But my cell is my lifeline to my family and my work and I do not want to have unsolicited marketers calling in while I am using the phone and interrupting an important call.
Debby, Fillmore, CA:
(My) elderly mom received a voicemail from the “IRS” telling her that she owed back taxes. The accent of the voice was foreign. She had me listen to it. She called back to find out what the issue was. She left a message on their voicemail… Later I input the phone number into a search engine finding out that others had had the same experience. My mother may have given them information if I hadn’t interceded. I am worried about the less aware consumers and elderly being taken advantage of.
Fortunately, our story-sharers did not lose any money to these scammers. They know what many of us don’t: The IRS will not contact you by phone to collect a debt. Any time there is a tax issue, the IRS will first mail you a notice. Moreover, the IRS will never ask for credit, debit or prepaid card numbers over the phone. Our colleagues at Consumer Reports have helpful tips on how to spot and avoid scams. You can find them here. If you get a call from an IRS imposter, report it! That helps law enforcement, and may help prevent someone from becoming a victim. Here’s where to go to report an IRS scam.
You can help stop robocalls like these by joining our campaign. Take action by signing our petition asking the major phone companies to give you free tools to these calls before they reach you. If you’ve already signed on, please share this post with friends and family so they don’t get scammed!