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Tax phone scam ‘largest ever’

By Kay Bell ·
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Posted: 1 pm ET

Misery might well love company, but not when it comes to a pervasive tax scam.

Last November, the Internal Revenue Service warned that con artists pretending to be IRS agents were calling people across the country, telling them that they owed taxes and must pay using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The scammers then threatened those who refused to pay with arrest, deportation (many of the targeted victims were immigrants) or loss of a business or driver's license.

Apparently the word didn't get out widely enough. That phone scam has become the largest tax scam ever, according to the government watchdog office that keeps an eye on the IRS.

20,000 victims and counting

"This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen," said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, in a statement about the crime.

George said TIGTA has received reports of more than 20,000 scam calls. More distressing, the inspector general reports that thousands of victims have collectively handed over more than $1 million to the crooks.

TIGTA issued its warning not just because of the scope of the scam, but also because tax-related crimes increase during filing season.

"The increasing number of people receiving these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming," George said. "At all times, and particularly during the tax-filing season, we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alert to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals."

Don't become a victim

Tax scams pop up year-round. Regardless of whether it's January, April or August, you can take steps to protect yourself.

First, be suspicious.

The real IRS usually first contacts people by mail, not by phone, about unpaid taxes. And, says the tax agency, its agents won't ask for payment using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Neither will the IRS request your credit card number over the phone.

Always do your due diligence before making any payments.

Although con artists often are able to display on caller ID information that indicates it's the IRS on the phone, double-check.

If you do owe or think you might owe federal taxes, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. IRS representatives can help you verify your tax liability and answer your payment questions.

If you don't owe taxes, report the incident to TIGTA at (800) 366-4484. Also file a complaint noting it's about an IRS telephone scam with the Federal Trade Commission at

A little bit of caution can help keep you from joining the phone-scam victim list.

More tax info from Bankrate

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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book "The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes" and co-author of the e-book "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."

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eric johnsen
June 04, 2014 at 3:49 pm

i was phoned, the person had middle eastern accent and proceeded to say i owed 3500, a warrant for my arrest had been issued and i was going to spend 15 months in jail if i didnt pay. I asked for ID # from person and they just gave attitude. I paid nothing and phoned IRS, i owe nothimg. phone numbers that showed on phone 727-302-1145 and 319-505-9338 be aware .

April 28, 2014 at 9:28 pm

I wondering if I got scammed. I was told I owed are 19,000 and I got I was put on scared and paid money. I supposed I am victum. not sure after that all kinds of tax people called and said the same thing. what am gonna do if they scammed me?

Trey VonZimmer
April 06, 2014 at 4:28 pm

When they call, I just give them a bunch of made-up numbers and info. Then I let them deal with the fallout!

April 06, 2014 at 1:47 pm

WOW1 First a H&R shill followed by a Black Helicopter Alarmist!
This scam works because law abiding people obey the law and judge other people to be as honest as they are.

April 06, 2014 at 10:50 am

These people called me. I pay the extra fee to H and R Block for peace of mind coverage. I called my rep right after they called me and she took care of everything for me. She contacted the IRS and made sure I was OK and then reported the number they had left for me to call and the reps name. I feel better knowing that I have this coverage because even though I believed it was a fake call it still scares you pretty bad. Thanks to my H and R Block Rep I know I am covered!

April 06, 2014 at 9:51 am

The scam is successful because the I.R.S. targeted conservative groups and was used as a political tool by the current administration. The public now realizes the I.R.S. is capable of doing anything. They are completely out of control!!

Dave Hamilton
March 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Basically in my opinion I would say this scam was successful because the dire outcomes being threatened on the phone sound like just a few of the many heavy handed scenarios that are possible in real life.