The pervasive IRS impersonation phone scam has claimed nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million, according to a new warning from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

As the 2015 tax filing season begins, TIGTA reminded taxpayers to beware of phone calls from individuals claiming to represent the IRS while intending to defraud them.

“It is critical that all taxpayers continue to be wary of unsolicited telephone calls from individuals claiming to be IRS employees,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “This scam, which is international in nature, has proven to be the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive, they are relentless, and they are ruthless. Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash.”

TIGTA has received reports of roughly 290,000 contacts from scammers with taxpayers since October 2013. In the scam, the scammers make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them money for unpaid taxes via prepaid debit cards or wire transfer.

George noted that the scam has hit taxpayers in every state in the U.S. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license.

“The increasing number of people not only receiving but accepting these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming,” George added. “At all times, and particularly during the tax filing season, we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alert to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals. Do not become a victim.”

The IRS usually first contacts people by mail—not by phone—about unpaid taxes. The agency will not ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. IRS employees also will not ask for a credit card number over the phone.

“This is a crime of opportunity, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to take away the opportunity,” the Inspector General advised. “Do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone. … If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.”

The callers who commit this fraud often use an automated robocall machine and employ common names and fake IRS badge numbers. They may already know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.

The scammers can make their caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling. They may also send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam. In addition, they many call a second or third time claiming to be the police or the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the caller ID will again support their claim.

If taxpayers receive a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, TIGTA advises that If they know owe federal taxes, or think they might owe taxes, they should hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040 for help with payment questions. If taxpayers know they don’t owe taxes, they should fill out the “IRS Impersonation scam” form on TIGTA’s Web site, www.treasury.gov/tigta or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484. Taxpayers can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. They should add “IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in the complaint.

In addition, the IRS will never request personal or financial information by email, texting, or any social media. Scam emails can be forwarded to phishing@irs.gov. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links in these emails.

Taxpayers should also be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes winner) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

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