Tax-related identity theft was the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2014, while the number of complaints from consumers about criminals impersonating IRS officials was nearly 24 times more than in 2013, according to FTC statistics released Monday.

The numbers come from the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database, which accounts for complaints received by the FTC and other federal, state and local law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.

In 2013, the FTC received 2,545 complaints about IRS imposter scams. The number rose to 54,690 in 2014. The FTC received 109,063 complaints about tax identity theft in 2014, accounting for 32.8% of the 332,646 overall complaints about identity theft.

Tax identity theft typically happens when a scammer files a fraudulent tax return using a consumer’s Social Security number in order to receive a refund. 2014 marks the fifth consecutive year in which tax-related identity theft topped the list of identity theft complaints, with tax identity theft accounting for nearly a third of all identity theft complaints to the FTC. 

"We’ve seen an explosion of complaints about callers who claim to be IRS agents – but are not," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "IRS employees won't call out of the blue and threaten to have you arrested or demand specific methods of payment."

IRS impersonation scams often consist of someone contacting a consumer by phone, claiming that they are an IRS agent and that the consumer owes the IRS money. The caller suggests that consumers pay by wiring money or loading money on a pre-paid debit card.

The callers often threaten arrest or legal action, and their calls may appear to originate from Washington, D.C. phone numbers; scammers may even know a consumer’s full or partial Social Security number, lending credibility to the scam. The nearly twenty-four-fold increase in complaints related to IRS impersonation indicate that scammers are using this technique against consumers across the U.S.

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