I get it.
A lot of people are super scared of the Internal Revenue Service. The power the IRS has to collect tax debt can instill a lot of fear.
But it’s that fear that fraudsters are using to con people into giving them money by impersonating someone from the IRS.
I’ve said it before — How to spot a tax scam – but let me repeat it again.
— The IRS would not initiate a call to you about a tax debt. You would get a letter that is actually very polite and respectful. The agency mistakenly thought I owed back taxes (Handling a heart-stopping letter from the IRS). I got a letter. Then, I got another letter. What I never got was a telephone call. EVER!
— The IRS would not threaten to send police to arrest you. Please don’t let anyone scare you into thinking you’ll be arrested. It’s a lie. Read this from the IRS: Phone Scams Continue to be a Serious Threat
— The IRS would not demand that you wire money. Read or listen to this from NPR: Money Transfer Companies Fight Back Against IRS Scammers
— The IRS would not ask you to pay your debt using iTune gift cards or any other type of gift or debit cards. Read this blog posting from the Federal Trade Commission: Scammers push people to pay with iTunes gift cards
Many of the people getting caught by this scam are seniors. Here’s a story one reader sent: “A member of our family was targeted and unfortunately fell for this scam not long ago. Being elderly he didn’t understand that the IRS is NEVER going to call you to demand money. Fortunately for him, the bank teller stopped the transaction when she realized it was indeed a scam.”
Thank heavens for an alert bank employee.
I’ve been writing about this scam lately because even folks who spot the scam can still be scared.
Here’s one story: “Your morning column about IRS scammers was so timely! I had a harrowing experience with a caller who was extremely persistent and adamant that I owed the government $3,000 plus and needed to pay at least a $500 deposit immediately or I would be arrested,” a reader wrote. “When I protested that I had never received anything in writing, he explained in detail that I had not responded to a mailing and a second mailing had been sent to my ‘back up address’ with no response, so that’s why a warrant had been issued against me. (That’s when I started really suspecting the whole thing.) Even though I was pretty sure from the beginning that it couldn’t be true, he nevertheless frightened me, and it took a lot of strength to tell him I was hanging up to see if I could verify his information before I released any money. He was VERY pushy, very urgent tone in his voice, and repeated several times that I would be arrested if I hung up! I reflected with a family member how easy it might be for a more timid person to respond to his insistent request for a $500 deposit (and access to my credit card info). Is it true that the IRS never initiates legitimate calls?”
Yes, very true. If you get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you hadn’t called the agency, it is 100 percent a con.
The predators impersonating the IRS make me want to lose my religion. There ought to be a special wing in prison for them.
The authorities are fighting this fraud, but let’s help others who could be susceptible to this scam. Let’s start a social media campaign #StopIRSImpersonators. I want you to text, email, tweet and post on Facebook a warning about this con. Each one of you reach out to at least one person and tell them to hang up on these people.
We’ve got to help stop this gravy train because the more the scammers ensnare people, the longer this scam stays around.
Read and forward these columns:
— In the face of IRS impersonators, vive la resistance!
Color of Money Question of the Week
Have you gotten a call from an IRS impersonator? I want to share as many stories as possible in hopes that as many people as possible read and heed the warning that the IRS is not calling you. Send your comments to email@example.com. Please put “That is NOT the IRS Calling You.”
Live Chat Today
Come chat with me today live. I’ll answer your personal finance questions, but I’d also like to hear if you’ve been victimized by the IRS scam. To join the conversation click this link.
Being too social could cost you your job – last week’s question
Last week, I wrote about people losing their jobs following offensive social media postings. So I asked: Do you think people should lose their job when they post awful things online?
“Yes, this is the United States, and we enjoy freedom of speech, but there are also consequences,” one reader wrote. “Just as an employer wouldn’t tolerate your behavior and actions casting a negative light on them in the real world, so it is in cyber world. If I cannot insult individual clients or groups of customers by saying offensive things about them in person, why should I be able to do the same via the Internet? Yes, you certainly have the right to say denigrating things, but you don’t have a right to employment if it negatively impacts the person or company who signs your check.”
A reader who lives in Vermont and South Carolina (winters) wrote: “My answer would be ‘yes’ to firing people for inappropriate posts. Personally, I don’t use ANY social media for this reason.”
Financial news you can use
Retirement columnist Rodney Brooks Monday newsletter this week: Medical costs for retirees still rising
Brooks reports: “A new analysis from Fidelity Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate says a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 will need an whopping $260,000 to cover health care costs in retirement. That’s up 6 percent from last year and the highest estimate since the company began calculations in 2002.”
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to washingtonpost.com/business.