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IRS Scams: How to Spot Them and Protect Your Business

IRS scams involve criminals impersonating IRS agents, other government employees or debt collectors over the phone, online or via the mail in an effort to trick you into sending them money for taxes, penalties or fees you don’t actually owe.

People lose millions of dollars a year due to IRS scams. Here’s a list of recent IRS scams, tips on how to spot one and how to protect your business from these criminals.

The latest IRS scams

Scammers have become increasingly sophisticated in their approach to defrauding consumers and small businesses. While this is not an exhaustive list, we are highlighting 10 of the most common scams to be on the lookout for this tax season.

1. “We recalculated your tax refund and you need to fill out this form.”

The subject line of these emails will often appear with “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment” and display the IRS logo. It asks people to click a link and provide their Social Security number, birthday, address, driver’s license number and other personal information in order to submit a fake form to allegedly claim their refund. Mark this email as spam immediately and do not click on any links.

2. “You need to pay a small fee to get your stimulus check.”

This is a growing scam related to the government’s ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission warns. Many Americans will qualify for a stimulus check or Child Tax Credit, but the government (including the IRS) does not require anyone to pay anything to receive the money.

3. “We’re calling to tell you your identity was stolen; you need to buy some gift cards to fix it.”

In this trick, a criminal calls the victim and poses as an IRS agent. The criminal claims that either the victim’s identity has been stolen or that there are delinquent taxes owed that must be paid immediately. The criminal states that this can be resolved quickly by purchasing gift cards and providing them with the access numbers. This scam is illustrated in this video, with a warning that if you are ever asked to solve a problem with a gift card, it is a scam. 

4. “We’ll cancel your Social Security number.”

In this IRS scam, the criminal contacts the victim and claims that he or she can suspend or cancel the victim’s Social Security number unless immediate action is taken. “If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up,” the IRS says. 

5. “This is the Bureau of Tax Enforcement, and we’re putting a lien or levy on your assets.”

There is no Bureau of Tax Enforcement. Victims often receive a letter from the fake agency claiming that they have a tax lien or tax levy and that they had better pay the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement” or else. Hang up immediately, this is a scam.

6. “If you don’t call us back, you’ll be arrested.”

Criminals can make a caller ID phone number look like it’s coming from anywhere — including from the IRS, the local police or some other intimidating source. But the IRS doesn’t leave pre recorded voicemails, especially ones that claim to be urgent or are threatening. Do not respond to these phone calls. When in doubt, look up the official website of the agency mentioned in the phone call and contact them through the published phone number. 

7. “Click here to see some details about your tax refund.”

These emails are intended to trick the reader into clicking on links that lead to a fake IRS-like website and expose the user to malware. The IRS never emails taxpayers about the status of their tax refunds. Report the email as spam and do not click on any links. 

8. “We’re from the Taxpayer Advocate Service and we need some information.”

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is a legitimate organization within the IRS that helps people get assistance with IRS problems. But it doesn’t call taxpayers for no reason. Criminals are making phone calls that look like they’re coming from the TAS office in Houston or Brooklyn, according to the IRS, and when taxpayers return the calls — which often tell victims they’re entitled to a large tax refund — the criminals ask for personal information such as a Social Security number. Do not release any personal information. Hang up and contact the agency directly to confirm legitimacy. 

9. “Click on this to see your tax transcript.”

In this scam, fraudsters send an email with an attachment they claim is the taxpayer’s tax transcript. Although tax transcripts are a real thing that the IRS provides, the IRS does not email tax transcripts. You can request one directly from the IRS, which will then be mailed to you.

10. “Take this FBI survey.”

This is a ransomware scheme in which criminals email messages that appear to be from the IRS or FBI. When readers click on a link to a survey that the message claims is required, the link downloads ransomware that prevents users from accessing data on their devices unless they pay off the fraudsters. Do not click on any links within this email, report it as spam and delete it from your inbox.

How to Protect Your Business

Be diligent in reviewing any texts or emails you received from someone claiming to be from a government agency. Report these messages as spam and then delete them from your inbox. We recommend that you contact the agency directly to confirm any action that may be needed on your behalf, but do not reply to their number provided in the message nor call back if they called you first with a different phone number than the one listed at their official website. 

How to Report these Crimes to Authorities

  • You can report IRS scams online or by calling TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484.
  • Forward email messages that claim to be from the IRS to phishing@irs.gov. Do not open the attachments or click on any links in those emails.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission via the FTC Complaint Assistant at FTC.gov. 
  • If the IRS scam appears to be impersonating a state tax authority rather than the IRS, contact your state Attorney General’s office.