Hello, it’s not the IRS! Three easy ways to spot a phone scam

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Mid-South residents continue to get phone calls from scam artists pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

This comes after the government once again warned taxpayers that the scam was making the rounds.

IRS phone scam cost victims $5 million

Debra Dietrich was at work when she got the call.

"I was very shaken up at the first call, I'm like, there's a warrant for my arrest?" she said.

Dietrich  said the man had a foreign accent and called her by name.

She says he told her, "'It concerns a tax liability because you fraudulently filed some taxes which you $11,000 and now there's a warrant for you.'"

Dietrich says the caller then proceeded to tell her she needed to hang up, call him back from her cellphone, and ask for a person named David Chambers.

She knew better than to call back from her cell, so instead got a co-worker, and called back from a conference room on speaker phone.

"He said, 'This is David Chambers,' and it was the same voice that had told me to call back!" Dietrich said.

Dietrich says she knew she didn't owe the government and, as an accountant, was also skeptical that such a call would come first.  Knowing it was likely a scam, she decided to press the caller for more information.

"'Can you please read me the complaint or can I go home with my husband and call you back?'" she says she asked the caller.

When he told her no, she ended the call.

Dietrich emailed the On Your Side Investigators shortly afterwards. She wanted to help warn other residents about the scam.

"They're doing this to people who are unsuspecting and don't know how systems work and could very easily frighten them to turn over money," she said.

Dietrich is one of thousands of taxpayers who've been contacted by scammers pretending to be from the IRS.

IRS spokesperson Dan Boone said earlier this spring the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, (TIGTA) had gotten 60,000 calls about the scam.

That number has increased to 90,000, and the government estimates taxpayers have lost roughly $5 million to scammers.

Boone said, "There must be people falling for it or the scammers wouldn't continue to do it."

Red Flags

  • The scammers often fool people by using a Washington, D.C. area code.
  • Taxpayers shouldn't be surprised if the crooks already have a bit of their personal information such as their place of business, and even their Social Security Number.
  • According to the IRS, the caller tends to have a foreign accent and it may sound like they're in a busy call center.

"If you really owe the IRS money, we first will send you something in writing, you're not going to get a call out of the blue demanding payment," said Boone.

Dietrich said, "I want them stopped, this is not right, you're scamming people, you're taking their livelihood away from them and it just needs to stop!"

If you or a loved one has gotten a call like this, you can report it to TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484, or fill out this form.

Consumers can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and use their Complaint Assist tool. Add the words "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comment section of the complaint.