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New tax phone scam spoofs taxpayer assistance numbers

Scam telephone calls

High tax season ended on April 18. High tax scam season never ends.

The Internal Revenue Service today warned of a twist on an old phone scam. Criminals now are using telephone numbers that mimic IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) to trick taxpayers into paying non-existent tax bills.

It's not the first time this has happened. Back in 2015, the IRS warned of a telephone tax scam that employed spoofing, which is, in the criminal vernacular, the faking of a phone number that shows up on Caller ID.

Tax identity thieves also have used smishing, the text messaging cousin of phishing. It gets its name from the Short Message Service (SMS) systems used for texting.

Still pretending to be from IRS: Now we're seeing crooks pull the spoofing technique from the what-is-old-is-new-again tax scam files.

In this latest version of the pervasive IRS impersonator telephone scam, crooks claim to be calling from a local IRS TAC office.

If the taxpayer questions the demand for tax payment, the scam artists direct the taxpayer to the to look up the local TAC office telephone number to verify the phone number.

The crooks then hang up, wait a short time and call the potential tax victim back. On this second call, the criminals are able to fake, or spoof as it's known in the criminal vernacular, the Caller ID so that it appears the phone call is coming from an IRS TAC office.

After the taxpayer has “verified” the call number as that of an IRS assistance office, the fraudsters resume their demands for money. As in prior telephone tax scam incarnations, these TAC-pretenders generally demand payment on a debit card.

Spoofing spreads: Tax fraudsters also have been similarly spoofing local sheriff’s offices, state Department of Motor Vehicles, federal agencies and others to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.

In pretending to be these other agencies, the crooks make threats of arrest, license revocations and in some cases deportation.

Not IRS SOP: Phone calls from any IRS offices as the way to make first contact with taxpayers is not the federal agency's standard operating procedure.

As with all IRS offices, employees at the agency's TAC branches do not make calls to taxpayers to demand payment of overdue tax bills.

Again, the IRS typically initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.

There are special, limited circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment.

Real IRS agents also might visit a taxpayer's business in order to tour the facility as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.

Even in these cases through, taxpayers typically will first receive several letters, which the tax agency calls notices, from the IRS in the mail.

Tax scam timing: It is usually easier to fool folks during tax season. Human nature means we worry about getting our taxes filed on time and doing that job correctly.

Those fears remain high immediately after the April tax-filing deadline passes.

But tax scam artists don't limit their criminal activities. They run on a perpetual criminal clock.

That's why the IRS and its Security Summit partners in the tax industry and state tax agencies urge us all to remain alert 24/7, 365 days a year.

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