Did You Get a Call from the “IRS”? Put Down the Phone — It’s a Total Scam

Irs phone scam
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Update 10/28/16: The U.S. Department of Justice has charged 61 people and entities with taking part in this scam, which involved India-based call-centers where agents impersonated IRS and other federal officials.

Last Friday, my boyfriend got a voicemail from the IRS. (Or, rather, the “IRS.”)

The voice on the other line told him he hadn’t paid enough in taxes, and that he had to call back within 24 hours or possibly face extensive fines — and even jail time.

The same thing happened to my best friend a few months ago. And an acquaintance last week.

If you or someone you know has received one of these calls, listen up…

What You Need to Know About This IRS Phone Scam

My boyfriend and friends are savvy millennials who wouldn’t normally be swayed by scammers.

No Nigerian prince is going to swindle them of their money — but these calls from the “IRS” got them going.


Because the IRS is scary, and because very few people understand their taxes. So the possibility you screwed up your bill taps into a very real — and very reasonable — fear.

I can’t promise you’ve adequately paid your tax bill, but I can promise you those calls are scams.

The IRS will never call you without sending a bazillion letters first. Unfortunately, I know from firsthand experience.

And calling the IRS back will never go straight to a human (also known from, unfortunately, lots of firsthand experience).

On Aug. 2, 2016, the IRS issued a warning about the “increase in ‘robo-calls’ where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their ‘tax bill.’”

“These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken,” the website says.

Though the IRS notes the specific nature of these scams are frequently changing, it emphasizes it will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

It says knowing these “telltale signs” is the “best way to avoid becoming a victim.”

To help you stay vigilant, here’s a sample voicemail that, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), contains “all the signs of an IRS imposter scam.”

What to Do If You Get a Call From the “IRS”

Did that recording sound familiar? Here’s what to do.

1. Don’t Give Any Information

If you answer a call like this, don’t give out any information — and hang up right away.

2. Don’t Call Back

If you get a voicemail, it might be tempting to give the jerkfaces a piece of your mind… but for your sake, don’t do it.

“Even when you call them on the scam or whistle in their ear, you lose: scammers are likely mining all kinds of data from these calls,” explains tax attorney and Forbes contributor Kelly Phillips Erb (who, ironically, received a call herself).

3. Report the Scam

To help the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) crack down on these scams, fill out its (very brief!) IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting form.  

You can also report the scam to the FTC using its Complaint Assistant; be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the notes.

And, if you’re worried you might actually owe the IRS money, call the agency directly at 800-829-1040.

Your Turn: Have you received a call like this? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.