Beware of scam targeting IRS taxpayers

U.S. taxpayers across the country continue to be targeted by scams in which thieves pretend to be from the IRS and try to get individuals to send money or reveal sensitive information. Johns Hopkins' Corporate Security is sharing information that students, faculty, and staff can use to recognize these ploys and protect themselves.

The IRS has alerted the public to two updated approaches to the typical imposter scam.

In one ploy, a scammer posing as an IRS agent calls an individual on the phone claiming that person owes a tax debt and says the agency has already mailed him two certified letters, which were returned as "undeliverable." The caller claims that the individual needs to send prepaid debit cards or face immediate arrest.

Another new approach is for a thief to send a bogus email appearing to be from a tax software provider. The email claims that a database problem has occurred and asks the recipient to provide sensitive information, such as an electronic filing number, a tax identification number, login credentials, social security number, or the answers to security questions (for example, his mother's maiden name). Everyone should be aware that legitimate businesses do not ask for user names, passwords, or sensitive data via email.

To avoid scams, be aware of the following:

  • The IRS will not call or email to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill. If a collection agency is used (only after several past-due notices have been mailed), that firm's representatives will not identify themselves as IRS agents.

  • The IRS will not demand a specific payment method, and it does not accept prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.

  • The IRS will not request payment to a third party. All legitimate federal tax payments are made payable to the U.S. Treasury.

  • The IRS will not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

  • The IRS will not threaten to have taxpayers immediately arrested.

If you have questions about a claim that you owe taxes, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040. If you believe a request for payment, or another contact, is a scam, you can report it to the Treasury's inspector general for tax administration at 800-366-4484. More information is online at

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