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Guess what! That's NOT the IRS calling

When I got home from work the other day, I was greeted by two very unusual messages on my answering machine.

The first one said: "Hello, we have made several attempts to reach you. This call is officially a final notice from the Internal Revenue Service. The reason for this call is to inform you that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you. An urgent callback is necessary." Ironically, they failed to leave a number so I could urgently call them back.

Thief scam mask headphone
Hidesy | Getty Images

The second call came in about an hour later. It was a bit more threatening. "The IRS has decided to initiate legal proceedings against you, so in the next 24 hours, we will be marking a lien on your assets and your bank accounts due to your inability to settle your past due with the IRS," it said. "A bill collections officer will visit you soon to complete the paperwork. If you have any questions, then call our tax default line at 866-253-0374."

I decided to play along, knowing I would never give these scammers any information. So I called the number and got a recorded message stating that I had reached the IRS.

"The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ... has become aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid more than $14 million as a result of scams."

I started going through a menu of options and was actually transferred to a call center where a man began discussing my "case file" so he could help avoid a lien being placed on my assets. I asked whom I was speaking with and also pointed out he had no idea whom he was talking to, because he never even asked my name — so how could he possibly know my "case file"?

In a brazen move, he asked me to supply him with my Social Security number so we could verify it with the one in my "case file." I questioned how the IRS can demand that I pay taxes without giving me the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say that I owe. I then asked him for his name and his IRS identification number. I was disconnected.

I contacted the IRS about the unsolicited calls from these scammers who left the threatening messages.

I was, of course, assured that the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer by phone, email, text or social media to ask for personal or financial information. Indeed, the IRS will not call you and demand immediate payment on any taxes owed. The IRS handles any issues with taxes you owe by mailing you an official bill.

The IRS representative said that, despite warnings, people still readily give out personal data and fall into the traps of these scammers.

In fact, The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received reports of about 290,000 fraudulent contacts made since October 2013. The TIGTA is aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid more than $14 million as a result of scams in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards.

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So while it may seem obvious, here goes: Never, ever give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone who calls you claiming to be from the IRS.

For more information on reporting tax scams, go to IRS.gov and type "scam" in the search box.

By Jim Pavia, senior editor at large