No, the IRS Is Not Calling You to Collect a Tax Debt

Christina Tetreault
Staff Attorney

Monday, April 6th, 2015

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!

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50 responses to “No, the IRS Is Not Calling You to Collect a Tax Debt”

  1. luke bart says:

    The number that I received a call from today, 7/26/16 with that message is 202-846-0068, the message:
    “This message is intended to contact you. My name is [name withheld]. I am calling regarding an enforcement actions executed by U.S. Treasury intending your serious attention…”

  2. J Gilbert says:

    The problem is “free”. This would never happen if phone calls cost just a little. I think we should institute a miniscule tax on all outgoing phone calls (not just wireless and landline, but also voip) and use the money collected to root out scams, frauds, and abuses. Magic jack and other free calling services are the root of this problem, and they need to be paying for the solution.

  3. Robert B. says:

    There are some free tools. http://robocall.devpost.com/submissions One of those (the winner of the FTC Challenge https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2013/04/ftc-announces-robocall-challenge-winners) is the https://www.Nomorobo.com/ service, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. It does work for AT&T U-verse phone (I’ve had it setup for my home since April 2015) and I checked Comcast XFINITY (supported) and Sonic.net apparently even has it built into their own control panel; however, there are many out there that are not currently supported (Google Voice – actually has some of its own unwanted-call blocking features, Skype, Magic Jack, Sprint, POTS, …) You need a service that supports simultaneous ringing.

    I see there’s a link on this site from just a couple days ago showing that TimeWarner has also made it easier to use Nomorobo by integrating it into their account feature management page and can be added with one click.
    http://consumersunion.org/campaign-updates/time-warner-cable-customers-have-you-signed-up-for-nomorobo-yet/

    So, the tools are coming out, but support seems limited. Maybe someday we’ll get back to the point where answering the phone will be something to enjoy.

  4. Jack Lawrence says:

    Why don’t you give out the “Do Not Call Registry” number for everyone to call?
    The National DO NOT CALL list It will only take a minute of your time.. It blocks your number for five (5) years.
    You must call from the cell phone number you want to have blocked. You cannot call from a different phone number.

    888-382-1222

  5. joni says:

    I really wish web people would use black as their font color…. this light gray shi# is hard to read on a black background, and no, I shouldn’t have to highlight the page or change the default settings font settings in the web browser for EVERY page that is lame brained trendy with poor contrast.

  6. Stanley says:

    Why isn’t the FBI getting on this since they are frauding us using a federal agency namely the IRS?

  7. Steven F. Scharff says:

    I have been receiving automated calls from the “Insider Revenue Service” (yes, that’s what the message said), stating that I overpaid my taxes (actually, I’m getting a refund) and that they needed my name and Social Security Number “for proper processing”. I hang up each time, but it gets annoying, even after I entered my phone number on the National Do-Not-Call list.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Hi Steven, Glad to hear that you didn’t get ripped off. Your story illustrates why we need the phone companies to step up and make available free tools to block robocalls. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. Jerilyn Lagus says:

    I am on the National Do Not Call list and still receive calls. So I don[t know how it can be fixed but it needs to be more solid and keep us from getting these calls.

  9. Bruce says:

    All this stuff has been made possible by the person who came up with the spoofing software and sold it to the criminals. Yes, the phone companies should have come up with some way to stop it, but we would not be talking about this were it not for the low-life who came up with this software that makes these scams possible. This “inventor” should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and made an example out of. Maybe, just maybe, nailing them will give pause to the other “smart guys” out there who develop tools for crime and then sell it to whoever wants it, no questions asked.

  10. Rhonda Valdez says:

    These robo calls are ridiculous! Please stop them.

  11. Rhonda Valdez says:

    These robo calls are riduculous!

  12. Paula Skudra says:

    I have received several calls from these groups. They all have a middle eastern accents and are very hard to understand. I have saved all of them and will report them to the proper authorities. I called one back and asked him, who he was, what department of the government he worked for and why were they calling me. I was very stern. I apparently frightened him because he hung up and when I called back, no one answered! This makes me sick that they are preying on the elderly and getting away with it. They need to be found qand prosecuted!

  13. Eleni says:

    Hello again and I forgot to mention…the IRS does not call you they send you letters (but make sure you are calling the IRS -always check before you give $$ or any information to anyone!). People be aware you could be funding Al Quaida, ISIS, terrorist groups within the USA and outside the USA, pirates, criminals, drug lords etc. WAKE UP PEOPLE!
    People need to go online and put in the phone number and check what others are saying…99.9% of the time you will read the phone number that called you is a scam….there are so many scammers out there these days in and out of the US who the hell can keep up government, FBI etc…people educate yourselves and do your research online and don’t be so gullible like that poor old fool who gave $500K of his savings to the IRS scammers over a period of 2/yrs! Seriously? But then again you have these dumb men and women who are desperate for a companion they go online and meet some schmuck and send him/her money every month only to find out they are a scammer and don’t exist (a phisher)…besides most women online are in some type of solicitation service or prostitution etc…I cannot believe the ignorance with the internet at your fingertips….always check and never panic…that is what gets you in trouble (onoy if you are guilty of something).

  14. Eleni Garcia says:

    I don’t understand if the government, phone companies, IRS are aware of this why isn’t anything being done to stop it?
    I mean they track other things but not scams (over seas and in the US). Not to mention how many times do people need to watch the news and be told BE AWARE! DON’T do anything online like jobs that ask you to endorse checks etc…I mean come on people you don’t live in the dark ages any more…with the internet you have so much information -WAKE UP! Hang up on these scum…….but how else will the phone companies make $$ off of consumers to buy all their features (caller ID, Call block etc. for $60+ a month) . It’s enough people are getting ripped off from scammers they are getting ripped off from cable companies, phone companies, cell companies etc. selling your information…It’s the same difference..I think consumers need to start fighting back and when phone bills and tv was free now we pay up the wazoo to watch a decent program and talk on the phone…get real we are selfish and spoiled and have allowed this to snowball into debt…

  15. Donald Kelman says:

    Why is nobody going after the phone companies politically and legally, as they are profiting mightily from the robocall industry with special service packages? We pay for phone services for our own use, not to be interrupted incessantly by these calls. Surely the phone contract does not state that we will accept such calls — if it is so permissive, the politicians need to outlaw such inclusions. If not allowed, the companies need to be sued (?class actions). That should include all phone solicitations not expressly allowed by the phone company customer. I pay for a phone for my personal benefit, not for the benefit of these parasites. Needless to say, they have little success on my phone! The phone companies could locate these robocallers by their technology, and terminate service, if they wished to.
    We need to make them wish to!

  16. Terry McDanel says:

    The messages here seem incredibly technically naive. FBI? Really? The caller ID number can be randomized by software because it VOIP. (Google it). Track down a Magic Jack? At where? A coffee shop? Stop and do some math about how many of these calls are made every minute. The FBI will be pretty busy.

    There is a scammer born ever second because there is a sucker born every hour. They only have to hit one every few days. They call because people actually give out their credit card numbers, and neither the scammers nor the suckers read the Consumer Union.

    Want to avoid scam marketers? Move to Cuba. They dont have public internet. They do have a government who would probably spend time tracking down a Magic Jack in a coffee shop, if their coffee shops ever get wifi.

    But then again, i just spent 10 minutes writing this. Perhaps we should all be more selective about what to worry about.
    1st world problems!

  17. Terry McDanel says:

    The messages here seem incredibly technically naive. FBI? Really? The caller ID number can be randomized by software because it VOIP. (Google it). Track down a Magic Jack? At where? A coffee shop? Stop and do some math about how many of these calls are made every minute. The FBI will be pretty busy.

    There is a scammer born ever second because there is a sucker born every hour. They only have to hit one every few days. They call because people actually give out their credit card numbers, and neither the scammers nor the suckers read the Consumer Union.

    Want to avoid scam marketers? Move to Cuba. They dont have public internet. They do have a government who would probably spend time tracking down a Magic Jack in a coffee shop, if their coffee shops ever get wifi.

    But then again, i just spent 10 minutes writing this. Perhaps we should all be more selective about what to worry about.
    1st world problems!

  18. Lynette Corn says:

    These idiots kept calling me on my cell at work when I’m not supposed to be on the phone. The foreign accent gave them away. Also, my caller ID said they were calling from San Antonio which is not where my IRS info is housed. DON’T RETURN THE CALL. i CALLED MY ACCOUNTANT JUST TO MAKE HIM AWARE OF THE CALL. The first thing his secretary said was, : You didn’t call them back did you?” Hope they catch these bad guys!

  19. David Heck says:

    Stop all robocalls.

  20. Clair Mitchell, Jr says:

    I got a flurry of these on my recorder last week. Knowing it was a scam, I just deleted the messages. Then one of the spammers was unlucky enough to reach me live. After informing him in polite but luridly descriptive terms of the vocation obviously practiced by his mother in Bangalore resulting is such odious human offal as himself, I hung up. Last call from that bunch. OK, it was funny and good payback, but no solution. Solutions from other responders are helpful. Reporting to the IRS phishing line is good, but their budget has been so emasculated by Congress (itself a collection of tax cheats, outright thieves, despicably perennial, and oft-criminal, campaign fund raisers), that the Agency has few resources with which to follow up. Even honest taxpayers now have at best a 4 in 10 chance actually getting through to a human being no matter how long they’re on hold. But it can’t hurt. The lady who suggested the reverse directory approach has the most effective counter attack, but it is a bit time-intensive. Best advice was from the gentleman who said simply not to answer the call if you don’t recognize the number. By so doing, after awhile, we will collectively scrape them off the bottom of our shoes.

  21. James Trotter says:

    I contacted the IRS with the info on the scammers call but, got no return call. I left the phone caller’s number with them. I kept the voice mail (there were two) until I realized no one from the IRS would get back. I finally deleted the two voice mails and will continue ignoring them.

  22. Steve says:

    You folks are much too polite to these scammers. Insult them with the worst words you can think of, turn the airwaves purple with whatever expletives come to mind. It’ll make you feel better and hopefully it will make them feel worse 🙂

  23. Elaine says:

    Like the rest, I was contacted by these scammers last month with the same mo. They told me I owed upwards of $5,000 to the IRS and then threatened me. Here was my response that got the person on the other line to hang up on me: I told him that I’ve never received any notice from the IRS and unless they could provide me with something in writing, explaining the tax year and amount owed, I would not give them any money. I repeated this line to him several times and as he became more insistent, so did I. He finally hung up on me. Having worked with the IRS in the past, I know this is a tactic that is never used. No proof, no pay.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Elaine, sounds like you were well-defended against these fraudsters. Unfortunately, a lot of the fraudsters don’t hang-up, so we don’t recommend that folks engage if they do happen to answer a call like this. Our advice: just hang up. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  24. JoAnne says:

    I can’t believe people are still falling for these scams. The easiest way to avoid them is to do what I do. Only answer the phone when the number provided by caller ID is one you recognize. It’s that simple.

    The IRS will ALWAYS send you a letter first if there is a problem with your taxes. No letter, not legit.

  25. nrs says:

    Received call two weeks ago. Stating that caller was the “IRS” and filling is progressing against me. Given a phone number, I believe, from the state of Washington. Notified the FTC about this
    “scam.” I hope this helps.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Great job reporting the IRS scam! As noted in other comments, you can also report tax scams to the
      Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at http://www.tigta.gov. Thanks for your comment!

  26. Denise says:

    Any one who had been scammed should counter sue these
    nasty people and get full refund,interest, and court costs reimbursed. If these scammers are foreign, deport them, freeze their offshore assets, and never let them use our communication technology for any reason.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Hi Denise. Thanks for the comment. We agree that folks need to report scammers. Unfortunately, many robocalling scammers are beyond the reach of the law. Often they are located overseas, and law enforcement just doesn’t have the resources to bring them to justice. That’s why it’s so important to stop these fraudsters before they reach us.

  27. C Sukh says:

    I got those calls. Here is what I did which stopped it.

    When I received call, I wrote down number. Than I went to internet and did reverse directory lookup on the number, for example website like http://www.whitepages.com. They told me number belonged to YMax Communications, which is company for internet based telephone service called MagicJack. According to their policies, no one using their service can mask or misrepresent from where they are calling. So I emailed their ‘Abuse Report’ email address. I gave them number I got call from, time of call, and number I was called on. I cited their usage policy and asked them to ban this number, as well as IP address of computer they are using. I got reply next day from them, apologizing for the abuse and confirming that they have banned that number and IP address associated with that device.

    I hope this helps.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience in stopping illegal robocalls! Please let us know if you try any call blockers. You can share feedback here. Thanks again!

  28. Noel Boado says:

    I have received numerous calls from these crooks. They can be convincing. At first I thought it was real. They still call me, I play along and waste their time, like they are wasting mine. The key is to let as many people as possible, know about these calls. I have posted warning signs on my social media accounts, so that my friends would be aware.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Great job getting the word out about these scammers Noel! The best defense against scammers is knowledge. And stopping them before they get to you and yours. That’s what we’re working to get done. Spread the message and ask your friends to join the fight to end illegal robocalls – you can share on social media by clicking the icons in the top right corner. Thanks!

  29. Theresa Boracci says:

    I have received several of these calls. They tell me I have to pay now. If I don’t pay them they will have the sheriff come to my house to arrest me. I told them, “Go ahead. I can use the vacation, free food, and a roof over my head.”

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Hi Theresa. Yes, these callers get threatening, though it doesn’t sound like you were very scared! Nevertheless, we recommend that if folks get calls from scammers they should just hang up. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  30. Robert says:

    If the FBI, with a little help from the NSA can’t catch these crooks, they might as well close shop. I have seen scams like this where they actually impersonate the FBI, demanding payment by money order!

    • George says:

      The FBI and NSA is more concerned with invading the privacy of law abiding citizens, than going after the genuine criminal element.
      If they were doing their jobs efficiently, most of our righteous politicians would be where they belong, in prison.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Hi Robert. You’re right. Scammers have a seemingly never-ending supply of authority types to impersonate. We’re working for a day when technology stops scammers before they get to you. If you haven’t already, join us!

  31. Capt. Ahab says:

    DO NOT call back: it might be a number where you get charged for calling, and your local phone company splits the take with the tele-crook.

    If you do wind up speaking with a live person, say that you are going to record the call. That gets rid of them quick.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Howdy, Captain! We agree that you should never engage with scammers. The best defense will be free tools from your phone company that will block these calls That’s what together we are working for! Until those are available to everyone, our advice is don’t call scammers back, and if you do answer one of these calls, just hang up. Thanks for the comment.

  32. SarahD says:

    I got one of these and the dude had the audacity to call back and ask whether I had hung up on him (I had) and get even more threatening. At least he didn’t call back again after I hung up on him the second time.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Sarah, your comment shows just how persistent and threatening these scammers are. Wouldn’t it be great if the scammer who called you (TWICE!) could never have gotten through? That’s what we’re working for together with this campaign. Thanks for taking the time to comment and we look forward to working with you to end robocalls!

  33. G. Mann says:

    I would like to eliminate all Robo Calls. But at least, screen those calls for legitimacy.

    • Helen says:

      Here’s a suggestion. Note the phone number the scammer gives you in the voice mail and also the number listed on the caller ID if you have it. Then send these numbers with a brief description of the caller’s message to the following REAL IRS phish/fraud site: phishing@irs.gov. Don’t know if they can do anything (such as, hopefully, trace the phone numbers) but it’s worth a try!

      • Christina Tetreault says:

        Hi Helen. Yes, we agree, reporting scammers is a great way to help stop others from being victimized. You can also report tax scams to the
        Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at http://www.tigta.gov. Thanks for your comment!

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      We appreciate you taking the time to comment. Ending illegal robocalls will cut down on many if not most of the annoying and dangerous scam calls that invade our privacy and cost us money. Join the fight here.

  34. John Little says:

    Anything we can do to stop this, is well done.

    • Christina Tetreault says:

      Thanks for the comment John. We can end robocalls! Hope you have joined us in calling on the telecoms to provide free tools to block robocalls. You can find our more here.

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