There's never an off-season when it comes to scammers and thieves who want to trick people to scam them out of money, steal their personal information, or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes. While scam attempts typically peak during tax season, taxpayers need to remain vigilant all year long.

For example, there are many reports of taxpayers being asked to pay a fake tax bill through the purchase of gift cards. While gift cards are a popular and convenient gift for all occasions, they are also a tool that scammers use to steal money from people.

Scammers often target taxpayers by asking them to pay a fake tax bill with gift cards. They may also use a compromised email account to send emails requesting gift card purchases for friends, family or co-workers. The IRS reminds taxpayers gift cards are for gifts, not for making tax payments.

The most common way scammers request gift cards is over the phone through a government impersonation scam. However, they will also request gift cards by sending a text message, email or through social media.

Here's a typical scenario:

A scammer posing as an IRS agent will call the taxpayer or leave a voicemail with a callback number informing the taxpayer that they are linked to some criminal activity. For example, the scammer will tell the taxpayer their identity has been stolen and used to open fake bank accounts.

Here's how the scam unfolds:

  • The scammer will threaten or harass the taxpayer by telling them that they must pay a fictitious tax penalty.
  • The scammer instructs the taxpayer to buy gift cards from various stores.
  • Once the taxpayer buys the gift cards, the scammer will ask the taxpayer to provide the gift card number and PIN.

Scammers are continuously perfecting their tricks and sometimes it is difficult to determine whether it is really the IRS calling. Keep in mind that the IRS will never do the following:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Demand that taxpayers pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they owe. All taxpayers should be aware of their rights.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Threaten to revoke the taxpayer's driver's license, business licenses, or immigration status.

What to do if you think you've been targeted by a scammer

Anyone who believes they've been targeted by a scammer should contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call 800-366-4484.

Phone scams should also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov and make sure to add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

Unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, should be reported to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov and be sure to add "IRS Phone Scam" to the subject line.

Remember, gift cards are for gifts, not for making tax payments.