Communications from the Internal Revenue Service typically are received with some trepidation, but a Bee reader said she was particularly concerned by a phone call purporting to be from the IRS that she believes was a scam.
The woman said she received a call last week that consisted of a recorded message, allegedly from the IRS, informing her that she owed back taxes and directing her to press a number to learn more. She accidentally pressed the wrong number and was disconnected.
After spending two hours trying to find out what the call was about, she spoke with an IRS representative who told her she didn't owe any back taxes.
So what about the automated phone call?
"It is highly unlikely that the initial contact with a taxpayer with a balance due would be done electronically," said Richard Panick, an IRS spokesman.
Generally, someone who owed back taxes would receive a series of letters from the IRS identifying the years and the amount due, and providing a telephone number to call to resolve the matter, he said.
If an IRS agent called a taxpayer, the agent would give his or her name, identification number and telephone number, Panick said.
Taxpayers who do receive a call from an IRS agent are never asked to provide or confirm their Social Security number. The IRS already has that information, Panick said, explaining that taxpayers would not be asked to provide information that is included on their tax return.
Panick, who is based in Seattle, said he had not heard of exactly the type of call the Bee reader described, but he is familiar with similar ploys, known as phishing, to obtain people's personal and financial information.
"There are always new variations, be they email or phone scams," he said.
Panick advised anyone who questions the legitimacy of a communication from the Internal Revenue Service to call the IRS' toll-free number, (800) 829-1040.
The IRS offers some key information to help people avoid phishing scams:
The IRS doesn't ask for personal and financial information such as PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.
The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through email and won't send a message about your tax account.
If you receive an email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, or directing you to an IRS site, don't reply to the message. Don't open any attachments. These attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
Do not click on any links. If you have clicked on links in a suspicious email or phishing website and entered confidential information, visit the IRS website and enter the search term "identity theft" for information and resources to help.
The address of the official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but you suspect it is bogus, do not provide any personal information on the site and report it to the IRS.
Details on how to report specific types of scams and what to do if you are victimized are available at www.irs.gov, keyword phishing.