Tax season may just be getting started, but tax scammers have been hard at work. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has gotten thousands of complaints about one kind of scammer in particular — IRS imposters.

Here’s how they work: scammers posing as IRS officials call and say you owe taxes. They threaten to arrest or deport you, revoke your license, or even shut down your business if you don’t pay right away. They may know your Social Security number — or at least the last four digits of it — making you think it really is the IRS calling. They also can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC.

Before you can check out the callers, you’re told to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the number — something no government agency would ask you to do. Once you do it, you find out it was a scam, and the money is gone.

If you owe — or think you owe — federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail, not by phone.

Report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Speaking of tax scams, this is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Tax identity theft happens when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft is the most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC.

Tax identity theft victims typically find out about the crime when they get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in their name, or IRS records show they received wages from an employer they don’t know. If you get a letter like this, don’t panic. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.  If you’re a victim of tax identity theft visit IdentityTheft.gov to help you recover from identity theft.

Visit our Low Income Taxpayer Clinic‘s page for more information on how we can help as well as other resources and IRS tax tips.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and also 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, such as those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala