It's tax season and that means open season for scammers who claim to be from the IRS looking to steal your refund, your identity and more. In some cases, the scammers threaten to have you arrested or prosecuted if you don't do as they say.

The IRS says, don't fall for it.

A New York City police officer recently got a robocall claiming to be from someone at the IRS in regards to a "criminal lawsuit" and insisted they be called back immediately.

"Now if you don't return the call, and I don't hear from your attorney either, then the only thing I can do is wish you good luck as the situation unfolds on you," the caller said.

The NYPD 19th Precinct was so unconvinced, it posted the call on Twitter as a warning to the public. 

Among other red flags that make the call sound suspicious:

  • The voice sounds computer-generated.
  • The person claims to be from "Internal Revenue Services" (plural) when it's actually "the Internal Revenue Service."

The IRS says some scammers threaten to bring in the police if you don't do what they say. The con artists hope you are put in such a panic that you follow their instructions before you realize it's fake.

In many cases, the scammers simply ask you for your bank account information, credit card numbers, Social Security number, passwords, or ask you to buy a gift card and give you the number on the back.

The IRS reminds you that it will never call demanding immediate payment using things like debit cards, gift cards or wire transfer. It will generally send you a bill in the mail first. The agency said it also will never call you and threaten to immediately bring in the police to have you arrested. 

The IRS also said it will never:

  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Call you about an unexpected refund.

That's one example of a phishing scam. The more common is through emails that look legitimate, but they're not. They can look like they come from the IRS with subject lines like "IRS Important Notice" or “IRS Taxpayer Notice.”  The emails may even appear to come from someone you know.

The scams may contain hyperlinks that take users to a fake version of a website. Other versions contain attachments that may download malware or viruses to your computer.

The IRS says being skeptical is a good thing in these situations:

  • Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. 
  • If you get an email that looks like someone you know asking for personal information or to click on a link, be sure to check the address the email is from. If your friend's address is JohnSmith@example.com, a fake email may be from JhonSmith@example.com -- switching out the "h" and the "o" hoping you won't notice. Also, be wary if you get an email from someone you know that seems to be contacting you out of the blue telling you that you need to click on a link.
  • Emails or texts with poor grammar or spelling are also warning signs.
  • Just like with calls, the IRS says it won't suddenly contact you by email requesting personal or financial information. The IRS also says no legitimate business or organization will ask for sensitive financial information via email.
  • Make sure your computer is updated with the latest security software.
  • Use different, strong passwords to protect your online accounts. When possible, use two-factor authentication for websites and social media accounts. This often involves signing up to have a passcode sent to your phone, which you would then input as you log in. Even if a scammer has your password, they likely don't have your phone, too.

You can report suspected phishing scams at phishing@irs.gov.

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