Published: March 13, 2024
4 min read

Watch out for IRS impersonation scams this tax season

Emma McGowan

Staff writer

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An older couple sitting on a bench learns about tax impersonation scams on their tablet.

Imagine getting a call or text out of the blue, with someone on the other end claiming to be from the IRS. They're not just asking for money; they're demanding it, with threats and urgency that could make anyone's heart race.

These IRS impersonation scams are the underbelly of tax season, where fraudsters masquerade as IRS officials to manipulate you into handing over your personal and financial. They'll try to scare you with talks of owed taxes and looming penalties, using phone calls, texts, or emails to get you to cave.

But don’t worry! Getting to grips with how these scammers operate is your first shield against them. Here’s what to look out for.

Psychological tactics used by IRS impersonation scammers

Scammers have a real knack for playing on your emotions, turning up the heat with their urgent and frightening calls. They throw around threats of arrest, deportation, or even revoking your license, all to get you rattling with fear. It's like they wear a badge of authority, but it's all smoke and mirrors, designed to rush you into action without a second thought. They're banking on the fact that if they push hard enough, you won't stop to question if they're the real deal or just another scammer in disguise.

  • Threatening calls: You know those phone calls that make your stomach drop? Scammers love to dial up, pretending to be IRS agents with a bone to pick about your taxes. They'll say you owe a hefty sum and need to cough up the cash, pronto.
  • Deceptive texts: Ever get a text out of the blue saying it's from the IRS and you need to act fast? That's scammers trying to push you into making a quick payment without thinking twice.
  • Misleading emails: Scammers are also pros at crafting emails that look like they're straight from the IRS, hoping you'll spill your personal details or click on a shady link.
  • Fake voicemails: And then there's the voicemails that sound like doom's on the line, urging you to call back a number that's a direct line to scam central.
  • Social media scams: Scrolling through your social feeds and get a message claiming to be the IRS? Yep, that's scammers sliding into your DMs, fishing for your info.

These tricks are part of their toolkit, especially when tax season rolls around. But remember, scammers are always tweaking their game. Keeping up with their latest schemes is key to staying one step ahead.

How to tell IRS scams from the real deal

So, how can you tell if that IRS call or email is legit or just another scammer trying to make a quick buck? First off, the real IRS has a pretty specific way of doing things, and surprise phone calls demanding cash ASAP just aren't their style. Look out for these telltale signs of fakes:

  • Immediate payment demands: If they're rushing you to pay up now, it's a scam.
  • Threats of law enforcement: Being told the police are on their way? Total scam move.
  • Gift cards or wire transfers: They're asking for payment via gift cards or wire transfer? Big red flag.
  • Odd protocols: The real IRS is more old school. They'll send you a letter in the mail if there's an issue. No threats, no drama.

Got a suspicious message? Here’s what to do

Hit with a call or message that smells fishy? Here's your game plan:

1. Don't tell them anything

Hang tight to your personal and financial info. Scammers would love to get their hands on it, but you're not going to make it easy for them.

2. Verify, verify, verify

If you're unsure, hang up and call the IRS directly using the number from their official website. If it's legit, they'll have all the details.

3. Report it

Jump onto the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) website or the IRS's own reporting page. Your info could help shut these scams down.

4. Spread the word

The more people know about these scams, the less likely they are to fall for them. Share your experience and what to watch out for.

As we navigate through tax season, keep these pointers in mind. Scammers are crafty, but now you're one step ahead. Don't let them shake you—stay vigilant and spread the word. Remember, if something feels off, it probably is. So, let's keep our guards up and protect each other by sharing the scoop on tax scams.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. LifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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