IRS phone scam becoming more prevalent

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - In the midst of tax season, officials say more and more people are getting calls from imposters pretending to be with the IRS.

Scam artists are using new technology to call your phone, disguising their number as the IRS or even the Department of Treasury. It's a scam that's been around for years, but officials say it's ramping up.

The Department of Consumer Affairs received 1,644 scam reports to their ID Theft Unit in 2016. Of those, 852, more than half, were IRS scam reports.

Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a pre-paid debit card, money order or a wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with being charged with a criminal violation, a grand jury indictment, immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver's license.

"That's a pretty big red flag of a scam is when they're using these scare tactics," Juliana Harris with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs says.

That's what happened to one Charleston man.

"I got a voicemail message from someone claiming to be the IRS telling me that legal action and an investigation has been launched against my name. And that I needed to call them and not to disregard them," the man says.

That message says this: "This message is intended for you from Internal Revenue Service. There are legal charges pressed against your name and your state identity is under federal investigation. For further information, please give us a call back on our hotline number at 843-637-2861. I repeat it's 843-637-2861. Please do not try to disregard this message and do return the call as soon as possible before any legal allegations takes place. Thank you and have a great day."

Officials say don't fall for it, even if it's from your own area code.

"Scammers can easily spoof a phone number and make it look like they're coming from that 202 area code, which is Washington DC, and make it read IRS or Department of Treasury – things like that to make them more inclined to actually answer the call but also more inclined to engage with the scammer as well. I do know there are IRS branches in several locations all over the country and sometimes you have to look out for the fact that scammers will use your own area code to make you answer the phone as well," Harris says.

IRS officials say they will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
  • Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
  • 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.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or e-mail.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

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