Common Tax Scams

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Tax scams are becoming more sophisticated and constantly evolving. The best way to protect your personal information is to be informed. Below is a list of the common tax scams and tips for how to avoid them.

Identity Theft. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity to commit fraud or other crimes. This personal information can include your name, Social Security Number or other identifying number. In regards to tax fraud, an identity thief uses a taxpayer's personal information to file a fraudulent tax return and claim a refund.

How to protect yourself: If you believe you have had your personal information lost or stolen, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The IRS will then take action to secure your tax information.

Telephone Scams. One example of a phone scam is when callers tell the victims they owe money or are entitled to a large refund. Phone scams take on many variations, but the IRS has identified common traits:

  • Scammers using fake names (generally common names and surnames) and IRS badge numbers
  • Callers reciting the last four digits of taxpayers' Social Security Numbers
  • Scammers imitating (spoofing) the IRS' toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear as if the IRS is actually calling
  • Scammers sending bogus IRS emails to victims supporting the claim they make via phone
  • Victims hearing background noise of other calls in order to mimic a legit IRS call center

In some calls, thieves threaten arrest or confiscation of the victim's driver's license, then hang up and promptly call back, claiming to be from the local police department or Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The caller ID that the victim sees supports the claim made in the previous call that the police or DMV will be in touch.

Another phone scam, while possibly affecting taxpayers throughout the country, specifically targets immigrants. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and that payment must be made promptly through a bank card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to pay, the caller threatens the victim with arrest, deportation or the suspension of a business license or driver's license. Frequently, the caller becomes hostile and insulting to the victim.

How to protect yourself: If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, the best way to protect yourself is to know your tax situation. If you owe (or think you may owe) taxes, contact the IRS directly at 800-829-1040. IRS employees will assist you with payment options or help resolve payment issues if applicable.

If you do not owe taxes or have no reason to believe you owe money to the IRS, call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

If you have been a target of a phone scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant at Please add IRS Telephone Scam to the comments of your complaint.

Phishing. Phishing is a scam generally carried out with the use of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site. This is done to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide confidential personal and financial information. Once the criminal has this personal data, crimes involving identity or financial theft can be committed.

How to protect yourself: The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information (including social media site(s) and text messaging). If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS or other organizations closely linked to the IRS, report this website to the IRS by emailing

False Promises of "Free Money" from Inflated Refunds / Return Preparer Fraud / False Income, Expenses or Exemptions. Criminals may pose as tax preparers during tax season. The fake preparers often promise too-good-to-be-true tax refunds, especially to those taxpayers who are not required to file a tax return, such as low-income individuals and the elderly. Another demographic thieves commonly target is non-English speaking individuals, who may or may not be required to file a tax return.

How to protect yourself: You are legally responsible for the content of your return, even if a professional prepares it. If a false refund is claimed on your behalf, you will most likely be responsible for paying the money back to the IRS, which may include accuracy and fraud related penalties.

Always review your return before signing and filing. If you have questions on anything contained in your tax return, be sure to ask questions and understand the accuracy of the return before filing and signing.

Impersonation of Charitable Organizations. Following major disasters, it's common to find criminals impersonating charities collecting money and personal information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Some scammers may contact people by telephone or email to solicit "donations" or other financial information such as bank account numbers. Others contact disaster victims, claiming to be working on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims on their tax return.

How to protect yourself: When donating to a charitable organization, follow these tips:

  • Only donate to recognized charities. Do not donate to organizations with names similar to nationally known charitable organization. Use the IRS website to search for legitimate charitable organizations.
  • Don't give out personal financial information, such as Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers.
  • Don't give or send cash. In order to keep good tax records, contribute by check or credit card, and request a receipt of the donation.

While criminals will continue to find ways to steal, you can protect yourself by following the advice of the IRS.