When someone claiming to be with the IRS left a voicemail saying I was being sued, I freaked. I called back the number to see what was going on, and the second the self-appointed IRS agent answered, he demanded my Social Security number. That’s when I knew it was a scam, and I hung up. The IRS never asks for your Social Security number over the phone. (I also know the IRS never answers the phone that promptly!) If the agency has an issue with your tax returns, it will send a formal letter first.
I next called my CPA to make sure he hadn’t received any dubious calls regarding my tax status. He told me that I was his fifth client harassed by a phony IRS agent that week. In fact, more than one million people in the U.S. are approached with similar scams every year, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Scammers sound official by using bogus case numbers, and they demand that your unpaid taxes be paid via prepaid debit cards, money orders, wire transfers, and, believe it or not, iTunes gift cards. When you refuse to pay, they threaten to have you arrested, take away your passport and even deport you. The fear tactics work: TIGTA claims that more than $29 million has been fraudulently collected from more than 5,500 victims in the past three years.
Don’t be a victim. If you receive a call that sounds in the least bit suspicious, do this first:
Hang up. We all receive unsolicited phone calls, and the best course of action isn’t to press a button or answer any questions. If you give fraudsters any attention, they’ll double their efforts to hook you.
Google it. A scammer posing as a utility worker once called a friend of mine. He claimed that my friend hadn’t paid her bill and threatened to shut off her electricity immediately. While on the phone, she googled the words utility and scam and realized within seconds that she was being conned. You can easily do the same.
Check your credit. Review your bank and credit card statements and balances online at least once a week; it’s a sure way to catch a thief. But it’s also worth signing up for a credit report monitor. For $19.99 a month, I use Experian, which alerts me by phone and text if a new charge or bank account is opened in my name, and when my credit score changes — even by as little as five points.