IRS Phone and Email Scams Increase 400%, Warns BBB


FirstTimeFilerAggressive, sophisticated phone and email scams that impersonate the IRS have increased 400 percent over last year, ripping off thousands of consumers with no end in sight because of the variations scammers use.

“The last twist to these on-going IRS scams use a new tactic playing on the current tax season,” says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “The thieves call saying they are the IRS and they just need to verify a few details to process your return. Scammers are trying to get you to give up personal information such as your Social Security number or personal financial information, i.e. bank account and credit card numbers.”

Bernas notes that the BBB has reports from the IRS and other law enforcement agencies that show the IRS scam and all of its variations have surged to four times the number of reports compared to last year. This includes emails and text messages as well as the usual phone calls.

“With the typical tax refund being approximately $2,800, consumers get very concerned when they are told there is a problem with their refund,” explained Bernas.

In addition to the phone calls seeking personal information, consumers need to be aware that scammers also use email. These messages typically include links that send users to what appear to be government websites that ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information that identity thieves can use to file false tax returns and collect refunds. The sites may also contain malware that infect taxpayers’ computers and enable cyber-thieves to gain access to files or track consumers’ keystrokes to get personal information.

If you get a ‘phishing’ email, the BBB offers this advice:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out your personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to Then delete it.
  • Don’t open any attachments or click on any links.
  • Report the email to BBB Scam Tracker .

These are things that the scammers do, that the real IRS will never do:

  • 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.

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.
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ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation.

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