Beware IRS Phone-Number Scams

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Source: Wikimedia Commons. The IRS continues to warn about telephone scams, which are increasing in number.

The IRS Phone Number for taxpayer help is (800)829-1040. If you get a call from someone claiming to be the IRS, and you didn't receive an official letter beforehand, it's a scam. Further, if you get an email from the IRS, it's a scam. Even as the IRS and media outlets increasingly warn Americans about these scams, the number of reported calls from phony IRS agents continues to rise. Don't let scammers take advantage of you or your elderly loved ones, who are most at risk. Read on to learn more.

IRS phone-number scams
The IRS placed phone scams as No. 1 on its dirty dozen tax scams list this year, up from No. 2 last year, when it received more than 90,000 complaints about such calls. It's a quickly growing problem, as phone scams didn't even make the top 12 list in 2013.

IRS phone-number scams can be very convincing. With the amount of personal information that has been stolen from hacked businesses during the past few years, it's entirely possible that the caller will have your Social Security number (or at least the last four digits), your past addresses, or other personal information that makes them seem credible. Scammers can even make it look on your caller ID as if the call is from the IRS.

If there's a problem with your taxes, the IRS will always first send you a letter about the problem. While the IRS may call you if it has already been in contact with you through mail, the IRS will never:

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  1. Initiate contact with you by phone.
  2. Call you asking for personal or financial information.
  3. Call you and demand immediate payment without the opportunity to appeal through mail.
  4. Call you and require that you pay your taxes over the phone through a specific method such as by credit card, debit card, prepaid card, or through a wire transfer.
  5. Call and threaten you with arrest, audit, deportation, or suspension of your driver's license or business license.
  6. Call and be angry, aggressive, emotional, or hostile.
  7. Have "the police," "the DMV," or other law enforcement groups call you and say they will come and arrest you if you don't pay.

As IRS Commissioner Josh Koskinen said the other day, "If you are surprised to be hearing from us, you are not hearing from us. Our way of contacting you is by letter." If you do get a call from someone claiming to be the IRS and you haven't received a letter from the IRS beforehand, then do the following:

  1. Ask for a call-back number and an employee badge number.
  2. Hang up.
  3. Call the IRS at (800)-829-1040. IRS employees can help you make sure the IRS employee badge number and call-back number are legitimate.

If you know you don't owe taxes to the IRS and you don't think the call was legitimate, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800)366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov, or you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission on their site. If you received a fraudulent call, please report it. Combatting fraud is difficult because many people don't report fraud attempts, while those who fall victim often either don't realize they are victims or are too embarrassed to report it and just quietly take the loss.

Spread the word
Make sure your older loved ones know about the dangers of IRS scams. A recent study found that criminal fraud, such as IRS phone-number scams, cost the elderly an estimated $13 billion a year. The elderly are frequently targeted by scammers because they have often experienced some cognitive decline and memory loss. Interestingly, young senior citizens are most at risk of falling prey to financial abuse, as they are least likely to have recognized a decline in judgement or memory loss.

As millions of Americans await their tax refunds, anxiety that you didn't do your taxes correctly may make you more susceptible to tax scams. Don't let you and your loved ones lose money to a tax scam.

The article Beware IRS Phone-Number Scams originally appeared on Fool.com.

Dan Dzombak is a long-term investor and writes about happiness. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.