A client recently told me about a call he received from the Internal Revenue Service that seemed suspicious. The caller left an urgent callback request, but he was not adept at representing himself as an IRS agent. Regardless, my client was concerned about the IRS having access to his fee-based investment account.
Unfortunately, this is the fourth time I’ve heard a tale like this, all from clients over 65 who were very concerned about the IRS demanding access to their investment accounts. Since we’re fee-only financial planners, our clients call us for advice on a range of subjects; they know we’re not going to ignore something like this that affects them so profoundly, and we’re not going to charge them for providing counsel.
Be warned. Though popular culture may lead us not to believe it, the IRS never engages in “shakedown” techniques for collections, or gathers information by phone. The caller may sound convincing and even tell you federal marshals are on their way to arrest you and collect from you—but that’s never the case. They very often ask for personal information like credit card numbers, bank account numbers and personal identification codes, but a true IRS agent will never ask for any financial information. The IRS has formal procedures in place for contacting taxpayers to deal with tax issues—and threatening people over the phone isn’t one of them.
The IRS website offers easy ways to spot suspicious calls, pointing out techniques scammers may use, but the IRS never does.
The following is from www.irs.gov, with my editing for clarity:
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment, or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Demand 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 get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
- If you know you owe taxes or think you might, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. IRS personnel can help you with a payment issue.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.treasury.gov/tigta
- In either case, you can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov). Choose “Scams and Ripoffs” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating an IRS agent, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Remember, too, that the IRS doesn’t use unsolicited email, text messages or social media to discuss your personal tax issues. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.
Don’t get fooled. And please help protect others by passing this information along, especially to seniors, who are most often are the victims of these criminals.
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