I used to be a Certified Financial Planner. My wife is an attorney. I’ve dealt with finance, and business, and courts, and the legal system, as both a professional and as a writer. And still, when I get a call and the voicemail says, “This is the IRS…” I still can’t help but tense up.
Phone Calls From the IRS
Of course, then I remember that these phone calls from the IRS are a scam.
Look, the IRS making phone calls is expensive. You have to put someone in a room with a desk, and a computer and a phone. This is confidential government data we’re talking about, plus there are rules, laws and regulations that govern how the IRS is allowed to interact with taxpayers. In other words, we aren’t talking about room full of $10 an hour temps dialing for dollars. It’s way cheaper and more efficient to have a computer crank out thousands of letters than to have people cold calling taxpayers on their home phone numbers.
Besides, by law, the IRS must notify you, BY MAIL, IN WRITING, of just about anything that could vaguely be interpreted as negative happens to you.
So, why did I just get a voicemail from a fake number that sounds like this?
The reason of this call is to inform you that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you. To get more information about this case file, please call immediately on our department number…
This is a scam. It is a trick to get people to give away their personal data, and steal their money. No doubt when I call, I’ll have to verify my name, address, and Social Security number, everything an identity thief needs. Then, I’m sure that I need to make some payment “immediately,” as in today, before I get off the phone, right now, or it’s too late and bad things will happen that cannot be stopped.
The IRS doesn’t work this way. In fact, almost to a fault, you get plenty of time to pay up, if you really are delinquent.
How To Know an IRS Phone Is A Scam or Legit
The easiest way to determine if a phone call from the IRS is legitimate or just another scam is simple. Answer this question:
- How much mail have you gotten from the IRS about the problem before getting the phone call?
If the answer isn’t at least four or five things, then it’s a scam.
Remember, the IRS MAILS people stuff. They don’t call people unless they have to. Calling people takes time, effort and money. Having a computer crank out thousands of letters and auto-address and mail them, that’s fast, cheap and easy. Plus, the IRS is always required to notify you in writing of any adverse actions.
Here is the IRS’ own page on Levy (the legal term for seizing property or garnishing your wages.)
Before there is a levy or lawsuit, and before the IRS garnishes your wages, you will get in the mail:
- A Notice and Demand for Payment (There are no surprise lawsuits. They’ll send you a bill first.)
- A Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing (You get this at least 30 days before the hearing).
And, this is the minimum. Typically, you’ll get several mailings before any issues any actions, and they will NEVER EVER demand immediate payment over the phone.
If someone calls you claiming to be from the IRS, and you have been getting mail about it for several months, then you’ll need to seek professional advice. But, if someone calls you about your back taxes, or penalties, or whatever, and it’s the first time you are hearing about it, it is a scam. Ignore it. Delete the message. Do NOT call back. That only tells the scammers that they made you nervous enough to call and they’ll ratchet up the pressure.
If you are worried. Here is the procedure from the IRS itself, which you can verify directly on the IRS website. (Link)
- Get the employee’s name, badge number, and call back number. (The IRS says to do this. If the employee refuses, or threatens you when you ask for this information, they are DEFINITELY a scam. They know the gig is up, and they’ll try and scare you in to doing something stupid. A legit agent should have no problem with you verifying their identity.)
- Call 1-800-366-4484. Tell them you got a call from someone claiming to be an IRS employee. Give them the information you collected in Step 1. If they are verified, then you can call them back.
What About Texts from the IRS?
The IRS does not send text messages to collect taxes or contact taxpayer EVER. The only text you will ever get from the IRS is a reply to a text you sent. The IRS does not send text messages for the purposes of contacting tax payers.
If you’re into some heavy reading, IRS Publication 594 details the IRS Collection Process.