It always seems to happen when you’ve just settled down for dinner. You get a phone call out of the blue and the man on the other end of the line says he’s Agent Such-and-Such from the Internal Revenue Service, badge number something-or-other. He says you owe back taxes, and when you balk at that, he gets angry, saying they’ll turn your name over to the police and have you arrested and thrown in jail.

Take a deep breath and hang up. You see, it’s all a scam. There’s a good chance the “agent” isn’t even in this country. The whole thing – from start to finish – is bogus.

According to the real IRS, agency impersonation and tax scams are a 12-months-a-year operation. They can use telephone, email, U.S. Postal mail and even text in an effort to scare you into thinking you owe them money. And these scammers get more creative and more official-sounding all the time.

How You Can Help

The IRS, state tax agencies and private-sector tax industry partners are asking for taxpayers’ help in the fight against identity theft and fraudulent income tax returns. For the second year in a row, they’ve launched the “Taxes. Security. Together.” awareness campaign to spread the word about how to avoid falling victim to cybercriminals of all types.

How do you know these types of calls and emails aren’t really from the IRS? By knowing what the real IRS will never do. And it’s pretty simple. For example, here are five things the scammers will to – but the IRS will not:

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • 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.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you do get a phone call from someone who claims to be from the IRS and demanding money, here’s what to do.

First, if you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think you do, don’t give the caller any information. Hang up immediately. Then report the call to TIGTA, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Call 800-366-4484, or go online to TIGTA’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page.

You can also report the call to the Federal Trade Commission, which also investigates such calls, using the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Remember to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in your note.

Taxpayers who know they owe taxes (or think they might) should call the IRS at 800-829-1040 and speak to a representative.

The fight against schemes like this is world-wide. This year a major raid was unleashed in India and arrested hundreds of people who are accused of running a large IRS impersonation phone scam in the U.S. The arrests show that scammers can be large-scale operations with very sophisticated techniques.

Stay alert. Tax scams can happen any time of year – not just at tax time. To stay current with the latest threats visit Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts at IRS.gov.