Government and Tax Phone Scams & How to Stop Them

Government and Tax Phone Scams & How to Stop Them

Americans lost millions of dollars to tax and government phone scams in 2020. Take back control over the calls you receive.

When the government calls, should you answer? Most of the time, probably not — and not for the reason you may think.

Scammers have caught on to the fact that they can get money and valuable personal information by impersonating authorities that most people want to cooperate with: IRS officials, Social Security administrators, and immigration officials to name a few.

Even though scammers are getting sneakier by the day, we’re here to provide you with the knowledge you need to prepare for any scam call that may come your way. Knowing the facts about government calls — most of all, that they are rare and won’t ever happen out-of-the-blue — can help save you the hassle of dealing with scammers in the first place or having to get your information and money back afterwards. Best case scenario? You block them before they ever get to you by using a third-party call blocking app like Robokiller

If you get a call from someone you think is a scammer, don’t give the caller any information. Write down the details of the call, such as the name and number of the caller, and hang up. Then, you can reach out to the real authorities for clarification. It’s always better to err on the side of caution in these situations.

Let’s dive into what you should know about government and tax phone scams.

What are common government phone scams?

One common way scammers appear credible is by spoofing, or impersonating, government phone numbers. This leads to numerous opportunities for scammers to get access to personal information or even money under the guise of being a government employee.

These criminals rely on the complexity of government departments to shield their shady activity. The government has so many branches and departments it can be hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. Often going to their websites for clarification isn’t much help either as the number you see on your caller ID may actually appear to be correct.

Alongside their ability to spoof real government numbers, you should be on guard when you get any call from a government agency. Most official government contact is done via USPS mail or using secure online portals, which will require prior knowledge and consent for use. So a phone call that comes out of the blue should be a sign that something may be amiss.

Scammers use a number of tactics to steal personal information by disguising themselves as government officials.

The three most common government phone scams are:

Internal Revenue Service: Scammers will claim to be from the IRS, and say that you owe a tax debt and that you must pay immediately. The caller may threaten you with arrest, deportation, bankruptcy, or loss of your business or driver’s license for non-payment.

Immigration: The caller will pose as Homeland Security or USCIS to threaten immigrants with deportation or, alternatively, offer fake scholarships (but you have to pay upfront of course). They may push for payment of fees, overdue tax or visa fees, or inquire about personal information like bank account numbers.

Social Security: Scam calls from Social Security fakers are usually out to steal your identity, rather than con you into paying fees. Many will call to say that your Social Security account has been “blocked” because you have been linked to a crime, such as drug trafficking or illegally sending money out of the country.

To confirm your account activity, they’ll ask for your Social Security number. Often, if you say no, they’ll make threats to seize your bank account or have you arrested.

There are not only scams related to immigration, the IRS, or Social Security, but also:

Sweepstakes scams: The caller claims you won the national lottery, but there’s no such thing. They may request money upfront to claim the prize, saying payment is needed to cover taxes, ensure delivery of winnings, or fulfill a service charge.

Unclaimed property scams: We’ve found missing money in your name! The sizable sum the caller describes could be an inheritance, an abandoned bank account, or unclaimed lottery prize. Sadly, it’s not real. Many of these scammers will use real government agencies as a cover, such as the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators or your state’s unclaimed funds office.

Debt collection scams: A debt collector calls claiming to be connected to the sheriff’s office, Federal Trade Commission, or another agency. You’re told to pay immediately or face arrest.

Medicare Scams: Scammers will pretend to be agency reps reaching out to collect a fee related to your Medicare card, or to “verify” personal information like a Social Security number or bank account info. They may request payment via credit card to continue coverage, offer to protect savings in a “safer account” due to a data breach, or sign you up for a new prescription plan.

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How to identify scam calls from fake government agencies

It may, at first, seem hard to distinguish these calls from something real and urgent. Scammers love to play on emotions and create a situation where it’s hard to think before you act. When contacted by a supposed government official over the phone, watch out for these red flags:

  • They cold-call you: Government agencies will usually start by sending an official letter, especially the IRS.
  • They’re hostile: Officials will not be hostile toward you or speak with you in an unprofessional manner.
  • They ask for your SSN: The IRS, SSA, and other government agencies will never call you and ask for your SSN. The FTC warns against giving it to anyone who contacts you no matter what.
  • They ask you to wire money: Anyone who tells you to send money via wire transfer, gift card, or prepaid debit card is a scammer.
  • They call with a sense of urgency: If they’re pressuring you to take action immediately, they’re likely not associated with the government.

What are common immigration scams?

Immigration is a convoluted, frustrating, and difficult process — even without the addition of scammers trying to steal your personal information or your money.

The two most common immigration scams use very different tactics:

  • Threats of deportation: Someone posing as an immigration authority will call saying you owe money, and must pay or face deportation or ineligibility for a visa. Others will request your personal information to process forms or “double check” on visa or green card status.
  • Scholarship promises: Someone reaches out to congratulate you for a government-funded grant. Funding for higher education or a small business venture is all yours, so long as you pay up-front fees to accept it.

Does USCIS call you?

Only on rare occasions, and almost always with prior notice. Remember: The USCIS won’t ask for money or personal information over the phone. That’s a huge red flag that lets you know it’s time to hang up.

Signs of an immigration scam

The tell-tale signs of immigration or Homeland Security scam calls are similar to those of other government scams. If the person on the other line is aggressive, especially in the way they ask for payment or information, that is a signal to hang up the phone. Many will try to go the extra mile to get what they want and only speak in fast English to try and confuse anyone that speaks English as a second language.

As a general rule of thumb, never give bank information or identifying personal data to a person over the phone, especially if they called you first. Hang up the phone and call the office they claim to represent or an immigration lawyer for clarification on the issue.

What should you do if you get a fake immigration call?

Falsely presenting oneself as an immigration authority is illegal. So if you receive a call like this, you should report it to your state consumer protection office. You can find more information here.

Does the IRS ever call you (or is it a scam)?

A surprise call from the IRS can be a scary moment. Thankfully, the IRS will almost never call you unless you owe a significant amount of back taxes, and you’ll always receive notification in the mail first. If you receive a call from the IRS, chances are you know it’s coming.

IRS scam calls are often very creative and resourceful. The caller will usually have some personal information about you to present during the call to lend legitimacy to their claim. Others will give you a fake IRS badge number to make their threats feel real. More complex scams will have a second scam call come in using spoofed numbers from the local police or the DMV to back up their claims. Just know, the real IRS doesn’t work this way!

How can you tell if an IRS call is a scam?

The IRS is intimidating, but they operate from a well-established set of rules and guidelines. The IRS will never:

  • Act aggressively or make threats
  • Solicit immediate payment over the phone, especially via gift card or wire transfer
  • Demand payment without the opportunity to appeal
  • Request bank or credit card information over the phone
  • Threaten you with arrest if you don’t pay
  • Threaten to take away business licenses, visas, or driver’s licenses for non-payment

Think you received IRS scam phone calls?

File a report with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at or 800-366-4484.

You can also contact the IRS directly to report abuse or confirm any back taxes you think you owe. Call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or visit

Would Social Security ever call you?

Like IRS “calls,” a call that claims there’s an issue with your Social Security number or account can be frightening and anxiety inducing. However, you can breathe easy knowing that if there is actually a problem, the Social Security Administration will send a letter first. They will only call if you have requested a call or have ongoing business with them already.

More likely than not, a call about Social Security is a scam where a fraudster pretends to be a government employee. As always, don’t give out any money or personal information under any circumstances, no matter the threats they make.

How does a Social Security Administration scam call work?

Most often, the caller says that there’s a problem with your Social Security account. They may couch their ask in concerns about identity theft (ironically), asking for more information to access your account, or threaten you with fines for fees or overpayment debts.

Checking if the number is the official phone number may not be enough because scammers have been known to spoof government numbers, including:

  • SSA’s national 800 number
  • The Social Security fraud hotline
  • Local Social Security field offices
  • SSA press offices
  • Local police numbers

How can you tell if a Social Security call is a scam?

The Social Security Administration will never threaten to suspend your Social Security number or demand immediate payment from you. If a caller tries either of these tactics, hang up. The SSA will never require payment by cash, gift card, prepaid debit card, cryptocurrency, or wire transfer. All of these tactics are common among scammers though, so be on the lookout.

Where do I report fake Social Security calls?

If you receive a questionable SSA call, always report it to the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration.

Would immigration or USCIS call you?

As a rule, no. Communications from USCIS will almost always come through official channels (i.e. USPS mail or official email). If USCIS contacts you over the phone, you will have received prior notification of the call in the mail before it happens.

If you receive a cold call from DHS or USCIS, hang up. You can always call using the official USCIS hotline to confirm whether the call was genuine or not, or check their online portal for updates that may warrant a phone call.

Some important red flags will let you know it’s a DHS/USCIS scammer on the phone:

  • Incoming calls from a hotline number: Scammers will often spoof phone numbers from government agencies to make them look official. Many immigration scammers will use the official hotline number for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But that’s an incoming phone line only, and they will never use it for outgoing calls.
  • Requests for personal info: A real DHS or USCIS official will never ask you for information about your case or your personal information over the phone. If a caller asks for this kind of sensitive info, it’s a scam.
  • Requests for payment over the phone: USCIS will never ask you to transfer money to an individual over the phone or email, especially using untraceable payment methods. In fact, they don’t accept Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, or gift cards as payment for immigration fees.

There are some fees you can pay online but you must do it through your official USCIS online account and

If you think you received a fake USCIS or DHS call:

  • Hang up the phone immediately
  • Get in touch with the USCIS directly to answer any questions you may have
  • Report the call to the FTC

Would Medicare call you?

Generally, no. Like other government agencies, Medicare does their official business via the mail or email, and they won’t usually get in touch with you over the phone (especially not unexpectedly). As a rule, you’ll receive an official letter to let you know that you need to contact them or set up a pre-scheduled telephone interview. A call from an official government agency out-of-the-blue is almost always a scam.

The one instance where a Medicare representative may call you is if you contacted them first and requested a return call after calling 1-800-MEDICARE. Very rarely will they call for information to process an application for social security benefits.

If a caller says they’re calling from the Medicare administration, keep this in mind:

  • Medicare will never cold call or come to your home uninvited to sell products or services.
  • Medicare beneficiaries do NOT need to update their information, pay a fee, or take any other action to receive or “activate” new cards.
  • Medicare cards do not expire, so if someone calls saying they need to send you a new one — hang up!

Be smart and stay safe

Some scammers will be very persuasive and knowledgeable about both Medicare practices and, sometimes, your background. They may even know some basic information about you, like your full name, address, and birthdate.

Don’t let your guard down: if you receive a call and you notice they’re asking for more personal information, tell them you’ll call back (or just hang up).

Some may ask for your Medicare number and bank account information so they can “direct deposit” funds for a vague refund you’re owed. Likely, there is no refund and they’re just looking to take your personal information.

If you have concerns about a call you received, here’s what you can do:

  • Ask for a call back number or hang up
  • Call the customer service number on the back of your Medicare card
  • If you provided personal information to a fraudulent caller, report it to the FTC immediately

How to stop receiving government and tax scam calls

Scam calls are annoying, disruptive, and at times unsettling — especially when they spoof reputable government agencies.The best, most effective thing you can do to prevent robocalls, scam calls, and cold calls is get a third-party robocall blocker like Robokiller

Pro tip

Don’t leave your personal data vulnerable. Always make sure the spam call-blocking app you download is committed to safety and privacy when it comes to your information. Click here to read Robokiller’s stance on protecting your privacy.

Your mobile device will also have blocking features to support your call screening efforts. For example, Apple iPhones now feature an option to silence unknown callers. When activated, this feature silences ringing and vibration for any incoming calls that aren’t saved to your address book.

Here’s how to enable this setting:

  1. Go to “Settings,” then “Phone.”
  2. Toggle “Silence unknown callers” on.
  3. Calls from unknown numbers will not ring when they call.

Please note: This function will silence all unknown calls, so if you’re expecting an important call that could come from outside your address book, you may miss it.

Android phones have a similar function that uses caller ID to notify you of potential spam calls.

Here’s how to block robocalls on Android phones:

  1. Tap the phone icon and then tap the three dots at the top of the Phone app screen.
  2. Tap "Settings" in the dropdown menu.
  3. Tap "Block numbers" and then toggle "Block unknown callers" to green.

Of course, you should also add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. This option costs nothing, and prevents sales callers from contacting you over the phone without prior consent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t block scam calls (because scammers don’t follow the law).

Or, inquire with your mobile or landline phone provider to see if it offers call-blocking or call-labeling services. Some of these services are complementary or included in certain plans, but some may cost an additional fee.

See more: The FTC’s list of call blocking and labeling tools currently available to consumers.

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