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Consumers need to be alert for IRS-impersonating phone scammers

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to work for the IRS, be alert: Scammers are posing as IRS representatives and stealing money from consumers. This scheme has impacted people in every U.S. state, and consumers must learn about IRS policies and what they can do to protect themselves from fraud and theft. 

How the scam works
The con is incredibly simple. The scammers call an individual and introduce themselves as a member of the IRS. They will often present a fake badge number to gain the consumer's trust, and then say the consumer owes additional unpaid taxes that must be paid immediately. 

In many cases, the scammer will claim that failure to pay these taxes may result in arrest, deportation or suspension of the consumer's driver's license, according to Time Magazine. Once they present these threats, the scammer will demand payment through a wire transfer or pre-loaded debit card. 

If the consumer is reticent to pay, particularly resourceful criminals will often call a second time and pretend to be a representative from the Department of Motor Vehicles or law enforcement. They will reiterate the threats outlined in the original call and repeat the request for immediate payment. 

Warning signs
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at the Department of the Treasury testified that 3,000 people have lost a total of $15.5 million to this scam over the past two years. The IRS noted that scammers often target those who may be less knowledgeable about tax laws. 

"The IRS never takes credit card information over the phone."

The truth is, the IRS does not call people regarding owed taxes without first sending mail and email messages. Additionally, the IRS never asks taxpayers to supply credit card information over the phone as a method of payment. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the IRS' policies, and scammers take several steps to make their con look legitimate. Criminals will trick the caller ID on victims' phones to display the IRS' toll-free number and supplement their phone calls with threatening emails. 

How to protect yourself
Even if you believe you might owe taxes to the IRS, it's best to assume a phone call from the IRS is fake if you haven't received any other correspondence. Anyone who receives a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent should contact the IRS directly and speak with an agent at the organization. These genuine representatives can alert you to taxes you may actually owe, and explain legitimate ways to pay. 

This type of fraud is a growing concern, but it is easy for you to avoid being tricked. Never provide personal information to unsolicited callers, and contact the IRS if you suspect you are the target of a scammer.