You’re at home, starting to cook dinner. Suddenly, the phone rings. You answer, and the voice on the other end of the line identifies themselves as an IRS employee. They inform you that you’ve been charged with serious tax crimes, and you could face arrest if you don’t clear up the matter within the next 24 hours.
You’re shocked. You do your best to fairly and accurately complete your tax return each year. Nonetheless, the whole process is confusing to you–and you admit there’s a chance you could have made a mistake. What do you do?
You should be suspicious. The above situation describes an increasingly common phone scam. A hacker–attempting to steal your money or personal information–impersonates and IRS employee and uses scare tactics to try to get you to release it to them. If successful, the hacker could take your identity.
What makes the scam convincing
Effective scammers do their homework. They can hack your caller ID to make their call appear to be coming from the IRS. They may find out a bit about your personal situation and tailor the scam to make it seem more convincing to you. For instance, if you’re an immigrant, they may threaten you with deportation. If you’re deaf, they may call you using video relay services (VMS).
However, there are also clues that the person on the phone may not be who they claim. For instance, a scammer may call you using an automated message. As with phishing emails, such messages often contain slight grammatical mistakes. For instance, a sentence such as, “We received a notification from headquarters which will get expired in next 24 working hours” would be suspicious.
Finally, it’s unlikely that you inadvertently committed serious tax crimes without knowing it. If you believe you’ve behaved above board, you probably have. See our post on typical IRS behavior to better spot scammers.