IRS scams seem to be getting more common. The other day I spoke with a sweet elderly client who had received a voicemail message from a man who claimed he was from the IRS. He told her they’d be issuing a warrant for her arrest if she didn’t call them back immediately. Of course, that frightened her and she called the number he left. Luckily, she was a bit wary and when the person on the other end told her to buy some Google Play gift cards as payment, she was pretty sure it was a scam and hung up. But she called me for reassurance that she’d done the right thing (she had).
The creepy thing is that while I was on the phone reassuring my client, my paralegal received a recorded IRS scam message on her cell phone! And I seem to get at least one recorded voicemail per month claiming there’s a warrant out for my arrest due to nonpayment of taxes.
It’s almost an epidemic. You get a phone call or robotic-sounding message from someone who says he is from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He says that you owe money for taxes and that the authorities will come and arrest you unless you wire money or buy prepaid debit cards, Google Play gift cards, or iTunes gift cards immediately. Of course, the caller isn’t with the IRS. He’s a thief.
These IRS scam artists target older Americans – even those in nursing homes – and bilk them out of millions of dollars a year. Here’s what you need to know about these IRS scams…
The government has hard numbers only for the people who reported the theft to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), so the total scope of the crimes is likely much larger than the numbers make it appear. Since late 2013, more than 15,000 people have reported losses totaling nearly $75,000,000 to these illegal IRS scams. The average amount stolen is nearly $5,000 per victim, but at least one person lost more than $500,000, and at least one other person committed suicide after realizing he had been conned.
Thankfully, the word is getting out about these IRS scams, and would-be victims are reporting the impersonators. More than 2,500,000 people have contacted TIGTA to report suspicious calls from people claiming to be with the IRS.
What to Do If You Get a Suspicious Phone Call
If you get a phone call from someone who claims to be an IRS employee, just hang up. TIGTA agents advise that you not engage with the person at all. Don’t try to pull a prank on him or blow an air horn into the phone. Just get off the phone immediately.
Why just hang up? Apparently there have been several instances where the IRS scammers got angry at the people they were trying to victimize and took revenge. They called the police and gave false reports of violent criminal activity, such as reporting an armed home invasion happening at the person’s house. This dangerous, illegal act is known as “swatting,” named for the SWAT teams that respond to the alleged threat, sometimes with deadly force.
So, hang up immediately and report the IRS scam. If you didn’t fall for the scheme, report the call on the TIGTA website: www.tigta.gov. If you did fall prey to the con artists, then call the TIGTA hotline (800-366-4484).
What to Do If You Might Owe Back Taxes
The IRS contacts people by mail about delinquent taxes. They do not start the process by telephoning taxpayers and threatening them with arrest, jail, or forfeiture of their homes. If you are worried about whether you really do owe any taxes, the best thing to do is to go to the IRS website, www.irs.gov, and see if you owe any back taxes. If you do, the IRS will work with you and set up a payment plan. They won’t tell you to go to Walmart to buy prepaid debit cards.
Keep yourself safe from financial predators, including IRS scam artists, by using some common sense. Don’t anger them, but also don’t ignore the situation if you actually do owe taxes. Interest and penalties can add up quickly. You’ll sleep much better at night if you get a payment plan in place and know what to expect.
Your state’s regulations might be different from the general law of this article, so it would be a good idea to talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
AARP. “Meet the Lawman Who Went After IRS Imposters.” (accessed April 11, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/timothy-camus-interview.html