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The IRS is calling? Hang up. It's a scam.

Scammers have been contacting taxpayers in California and Oregon lately telling them they owe money to the federal government. The taxpayer must pay immediately, the caller says, and only by wire transfer or temporary debit card. Saying no reportedly earns an aggressive response: The taxpayers are told they will be arrested or deported or will have their driver's licenses suspended, among other threats.

According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an agency hotline has logged about 90,000 complaints over the last nine or 10 months. Worse, taxpayers have lost as much as $5 million from the hoaxes.

Anyone who receives this kind of call should remember a few important things.

First, the IRS will never call a taxpayer "out of the blue," a TIGTA representative says. If the IRS needs to get in touch with a taxpayer for any reason, the first communication will be "official correspondence sent through the mail." So, if you have not received something in writing from the IRS, hang up.

Second, if a taxpayer does owe money, the IRS will never demand immediate payment over the phone.

Third, the IRS will never ask for a specific payment method, much less ask for credit card or debit card information over the phone.

In some cases, complainants have said that the calls from the scammers were followed up with a call from "local police" threatening arrest. This is not how the IRS operates. A taxpayer will know in advance if the IRS is planning to file a lien or take any other action to resolve a tax debt.

The scammers are fairly sophisticated. They can spoof an official phone number; when the taxpayer looks at caller ID, it looks as if the IRS is calling. The scammers will use common names, give badge numbers and use background noise to convince their targets that they are calling from a call center.

Most unsettling, perhaps, is some scammers' knowledge of the last four digits of the taxpayers Social Security number.

Nevertheless, the IRS urges anyone who receives such a call to hang up. Then pick up the phone and report the call to the TIGTA hotline: (800) 366-4484.

Sources:

Statesman Journal, "IRS phone scam hitting Mid-Valley," Carol McAlice Currie, Sept. 20, 2014

Wall Street Journal, "IRS Phone Scams Remain a Threat," Tom Herman, Aug. 30, 2014

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