So the IRS Threat Phishing Scam Seems to be Back

I have gotten three calls in three days with an automated voice message telling me that, in essence, the IRS is seriously pissed at me and I need to call a certain number in 24 hours to resolve it.

The message in some ways is reminiscent of the old Nigerian email scams in that the English sounds like a really bad translation of another language.  I wish I had a recording.  Some of it uses stilted English, as if it is trying to emulate bureaucratese.  But some of the message hilariously uses slang in ways that the IRS would never do in its official communication, most memorable of which was the admonishment that if I did not respond immediately, the IRS would "send the local cops to arrest me."  The IRS would never use the word "cops".  I can't remember an agency every using the word "police" even.  Government officials almost always use the term "law enforcement".

Suffice it to say, the IRS does not generally make calls like this.  If you think it might be legit, ignore whatever number that was left in the message and call the IRS customer support line on their web site.  This latter is always good advice for almost any collection or customer support call.  I get a number of calls and emails, for example, from credit card companies that say they suspect fraud and want to review some transactions.  I always ignore whatever number they leave me, or if they reach me with a live person tell them I will call back, and then I call the number printed on the back on the credit card.


  1. Dan Wendlick:

    As I tried to explain to y panicking wife: the IRS is the agency that, if they didn't invent the concept of the paper trail, definitely raised it to an art form.

  2. Steve Burrows:

    The IRS has a phishing report page on their website, I report every phishing call to them, who knows, it might help.

  3. Rick St.Amand:

    I have gotten a number of calls from the "I dot R dot S dot" and I find them hilarious. Of course I don't call anyone back. .

  4. John Moore:

    So, what is the libertarian solution to the flood of crank calls we now get, most with phony caller ID?

  5. Eric Hammer:

    Is there a republican or democrat solution? Near as I can tell, criminals are a fact of life, and currently no one has really figured out how to deal with these scams effectively from a law enforcement perspective.

  6. Anonymous Cryptomous:

    Since the IRS doesn't "make calls like this" I find it best to never to provide my phone number to them nor any government entity of any kind. I pay for communication devices for my convenience and use, nobody else's. If you have something for me, the USPS is the way you do it ...

  7. Eric Wilner:

    The "IRS" calls I get always start with "This message is intended to contact YOU regarding...".
    Hmmm. They don't know the name of the person they're calling? I don't think so.

    I occasionally get suspicious-transaction calls from one bank or another. I recognize the legitimate ones thus: it's within a few minutes - often seconds! - after I make an overseas purchase; the caller asks for me by name; and the caller correctly identifies the bank. I've never been asked for any information beyond "Yup, that was me" or "Just now? $502.27 to CzechCo via BelgianIntermediary? Yeah, that's legitimate."

  8. Peabody:

    Crank calls are simply prank calls, which don't seem to be a big problem.

    If you are referring to scammers attempting to commit fraud, then I'm confused. Do you think libertarians believe fraud should be legal?

  9. John Moore:

    Seriously? You don't mind frequent calls to your number from people trying to sell yourself? Calls with fraudulent caller ID so you can't tell if it is important from, say, a doctor who masks his ID (the VA does this) or just one more asshat trying to get your money?

    It's a damned big problem. It costs American collectively a huge amount of wasted time. It is no different from someone tossing litter in your yard - either way you have to waste time to solve it. The other party is using your resources (your time, your phone) without your permission.

  10. Not Sure:

    Take them to court and sue for damages.

  11. John Moore:

    And you find out who they are how? Their ID is faked. Also, how much in damages do you get for one fake call?

  12. Not Sure:

    "And you find out who they are how? Their ID is faked."

    I don't know but if it's a "damned big problem", surely there would be some interest figuring out how, don't you think?

    "Also, how much in damages do you get for one fake call?"

    So it's not that big of a problem, then?

  13. John Moore:

    It's a big problem when you get multiple a day. They don't all come from the same number.

    Are you trying to be obtuse, or are you really...

  14. iowa_bill:

    Steve and Eric, I wonder why someone who works at the IRS doesn't get these on his home computer, take the info to work, and pursue them with all the might of the agency. Wouldn't it be safe to assume this happens, and they are limited by these scams arising outside the US? But if so, why not respond with their own malware attached?
    Or for that matter, why don't principled hackers take up such a good cause? Why wait for the IRS?

  15. abe:

    I used to love the scams from the "FBI" signed Robert Mueller,
    I used to forward them to him.

  16. Broccoli:

    I don't know how true this is but I read that sophisticated scammers actually intentionally leave red flags in their scams like misspellings, broken English, etc. as it serves to weed out the more discerning victim who would just waste their time asking questions they can't answer. The scammer wants only the most gullible person who never questions.

    Wasting time talking to people who will figure out you are a scam is a cost after all.

  17. J Crain:

    The funniest ones are that use text-to-speech to deliver the message. Yeah, *that* sounds real legit.

  18. KoshsShadow:

    What is needed is to work with the payment companies to create fake payments.
    I've heard of payment requested with Best Buy gift cards. So you get the gift card company to generate card numbers that indicate it is a scam. Anyone trying to use the number in a store gets arrested. Any attempt to place a web or phone order gets a police officer in a UPS uniform.
    Or the equivalent in another country. If the other country doesn't want to cooperate, then the US credit card companies can refuse service for any delivery address in those countries.
    Yes, a lot of these will end up catching the Work at Home Package Shipment workers who thought they were getting a legit work at home job and are being scammed, but then if they work with the authorities, supplying the ultimate delivery address, they get a warning.

  19. Jason McFarland:

    The first step is changing the telephony infrastructure to no longer allow the the called ID do be set by the originating device to cut down on hiding their real number.

  20. Ridzie:

    I have had the same type of calls in Canada saying Canada Revenue Agency is ready to prosecute and I am sure lots more but I miss it as I hang up to fast.