Authorities warn of IRS phone scams

Calls from overseas often ‘spoof’ local numbers in Caller ID

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

IRSscamsThe phone rings and after a pause and maybe a few clicks, a voice comes on the line claiming to be calling you from the Internal Revenue Service — and that you’re in big trouble and need to pay up right now.

Forget for a moment that the voice sounds a bit southern Asian, the sound quality is rough and you hear lots and lots of background noise. The voice, identifying themselves as an IRS agent, informs you that you must pay or go to jail or lose your house or face some other dire outcome.

Before you panic — it’s more than likely that the call is a scam, an attempt to lure you to surrender your money to thieves thousands of miles away. And even if the caller ID suggests a Washington, D.C. number, more than likely the call is “spoofing” a local number via Voice over IP (calling on the Internet, VOIP) and may be coming from Asia or Eastern Europe.

On Monday, Coatesville police reported that a city woman received such a call — this one threatened to have her arrested by the Pennsylvania State Police arrest her if she did not pay up immediately. Ultimately sensing something was not right, the woman hung up and contacted city police.

Coatesville Police — as well as other local law enforcement agencies — are passing this information on, as citizens should be aware of this scam and that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief)  that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS. If anyone received similar phone calls they are advised to  hang up, and  notify police.

Residents all around Chester County have been reporting these calls, even to local media outlets.

As it turns out, one very persistent scam caller was calling The Times newsroom line, leaving a message that we must immediately call back, as the IRS was going to send us to jail (we note, we pay an excellent local accountant to keep us fully up to date and fully compliant) but we could not resist calling back.

Upon calling the number, listed as Newport Beach, CA., we immediately started asking questions — like which bureau office they were calling from (Washington, D.C., they said). We then asked which tax account was in arrears — “yours” was the most specific answer that we got. We then immediately asked to speak to a supervisor and shockingly, the caller actually connected us to someone else. This person had an even thicker south Asian accent, and again we began asking questions, over where the caller was, which VOIP phone system they were using, how often people comply (“they always do, they don’t want to go to jail”).

At that point, we identified ourselves as a reporter for The Times, asking more pointed questions about the scam, asking how many households they were targeting in Chester County, whether they’d been contacted by law enforcement in their country and so on, the voice said “we are from IRS” multiple times before finally just hanging up on us. We attempted to call back multiple times but at first were just hung up on immediately and then the call did not go through (seemingly blocked).

While the IRS doesn’t recommend doing what we did — calling back and attempting to engage — the agency offers tips on how to immediately tell when you’re being scammed:

The IRS will never:

1. Call to demand immediate payment, nor will they call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill..

2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

5. 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 owe, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at

• You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to and type “scam” in the search box.

Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

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