This morning at 8:12 AM my time I received a call from someone speaking with what sounded like an Indian accent who claimed to work for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asking me if I was aware that a warrant had been issued in the state of Maryland by the IRS for my arrest. Since I have not received any correspondence recently from the IRS by postal mail and it seemed unlikely an IRS employee would call me to notify me that a warrant was issued for my arrest, I was angered, but not worried by the call. I asked the caller where he was calling from and he said he was located in Washington D.C., which is, of coure, the location for the IRS. I asked for the calling phone number and he told me 1-800-829-1040. I was so irked by what seemed like an obvious scam attempt that I didn't let him go through his whole spiel to learn the details of how the scam was conducted. Instead, I simply told him that the call seemed like a scam and he seemed like a fraudster. He immediately responded with profanity and hung up; his knowledge of American profanity at least seemed good. Section 10 Taxpayer Contact of Chapter 1 of Part 5 of the Internal Revenue Manual states that it is a violation of IRS policy for an employee to use "obscene, profane, or abusive language", so that was only another indicator that the call was fraudulent.
After he hung up, I used *69 on my phone to see what calling number was reported. The calling number reported was 1-800-829-4933. That number and the one he gave are actual IRS numbers. The 1-800-829-4933 number is the IRS main taxpayer assistance line listed at How to Get Tax Help from the IRS and the 1-800-829-4933 one is the one listed on that same page for taxpayers to call with small business-related questions. However, it is common for telemarketers and scammers to spoof the calling number. Unfortunately, it seems that is fairly easy for them to do. E.g., often when I receive telemarketing calls to my mobile phone I notice that the first six digits of the calling number match those of my phone, but if I call the number back, the person who that phone number actually belongs to will answer and knows nothing about such calls. Telemarketers spoofing calling numbers is a common way to make it more difficult for people to identify the actual originating phone number when they file a complaint, but also telemarketers will spoof a calling number to make it more likely that the callee will think that he/she is receiving a local call and thus answer the phone. Con artists will spoof a calling number from a legitimate business, organization, or government agency to dupe a callee into thinking the call is legitimate.
After I hung up, I found the October 15, 2015 article on the IRS website, IRS Warns of Pervasive Telephone Scam, which notes:
The Internal Revenue Service today warned consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.
Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
The article notes "that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail", which is what I would expect and lists the following characteristics for the scam:
- Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
- Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.
- Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
- Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
- Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
- After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.
The article notes that you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency, regarding such calls:
You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Impostor Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Note: I found that I needed to select "Scams and Rip-offs" and then "Impostor Scams", which is for "Someone posing as a well-known business, a family/friend, or a government agency". After that I made the following selections (it didn't sem to be as obvious as I would have expected how one should file a complaint regarding someone pretending to represent a U.S. federal government agency):
- How were you contacted? Phone
- Are you contacting us to complain about the company’s telemarketing practices? No
- Did the person: Pretend to be a representative or employee of a local, state, or federal government?
You will then be taken to the "Information Collection" step where "In just a few moments you will be able to tell your story in your own words. But first we would like to collect some information." After I completed the complaint submission process, I saw the following information:
Thank you for submitting your complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Based on the information you have given us, we believe the following links to our consumer website may be helpful to you:
If you have any questions or would like us to add additional information to your complaint, please call 877-382-4357 to speak with a counselor.
The webpages to which the FTC link pointed had a link to another IRS article on such phone scams titled IRS Warns of Phone Scam.