The tax filing deadline is almost here, and that can mean only one thing. Thieves are coming out of the woodwork and trying to separate you from your hard-earned money.

You may have heard that identity theft rises as tax filing season approaches, and there is some evidence that is the case. With so much personal information, including key data like Social Security numbers, floating around, an enterprising criminal can make out like a bandit, filing false tax returns and claiming unwarranted refunds before the IRS has a chance to catch on.

Another way criminals separate taxpayers from their hard-earned money is through the telephone. This type of crime does not have to be high tech--all the bad guys need is a telephone and a list of taxpayer phone numbers.

If you receive a call purporting to be from the IRS, you should proceed with caution. Tax payment phone scams are on the rise, and knowing the hallmarks they have in common is the best way to protect yourself and your money. Here are some classic warning signs of an IRS phone scam.

The call comes out of nowhere

The call comes out of the blue with no earlier communication from the IRS. The Internal Revenue Service does not randomly contact taxpayers by phone, and the vast majority of its communication with individuals is through the mail, generally starting with an instructional, computer generated letter.

No chance of negotiation or audit

The caller insists that the taxpayer pay a set amount of money and offers no chance to negotiate the amount or resolve discrepancies. The IRS does not operate in this manner, and taxpayers have the right to a review of their situation and the amount they owe.

Western union

Payment must be made through a specific type of mechanism, often a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card. These payment methods are hard to law enforcement to trace and therefore a favorite with scam artists and other criminals.

Threats and scare tactics

Threats and intimidating are used to force compliance and ensure payment. Criminals using this kind of phone scam often try to scare victims into paying up by threatening to have them arrested and incarcerated.

What do you do if you get a irs scam phone call?

If you want to take a proactive approach and help others avoid being victimized, there are some things you can do upon receiving a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Here are a few things you can do to help stem the tide of this kind of fraud.

Hang Up

If you do receive one of these questionable phone calls, the best thing to do is simply hang up and refuse to cooperate. If you do in fact owe money to the IRS, the tax agency will contact you by mail and you can begin the payment and negotiation process at that point. Until and unless that happens, do yourself a favor and simply hang up on the scam artists.

Write down EVERYTHING

Record as many details about the call as you can, including the name of the caller, the callback number and any badge numbers or identifying pieces of information.

Google it

Do a Google search of the callback phone number and the word "scam" or IRS." Chances are others have received the same phone call and callback number and reported the alleged scam.

Call the police

Contact the police department for your municipality and let them know about the scam. The police may issue a press release warning local residents of the scam.

Call the news

Contact the news media and warn them about the scam. Many local news programs include consumer affairs segments warning of phone scams, identity theft rings and other threats.

Call the IRS

Call or email the IRS to let them know about the scam. The IRS may refer you to the Office of Inspector General and ask you to complete a form using the details you gathered earlier.

Nothing can make filing taxes pleasant or free of stress, but the presence of IRS scams makes tax filing season even worse. These phone scams are not likely to go away on their own, and fighting them will require the concerted effort of ordinary taxpayers, IRS officials, local law enforcement, the news media and an informed public.