Northeast Times

IRS warns customers about rampant phone scam

According to an Aug. 13 IRS news release, 1,100 victims have lost $5 million.

When you an­swer your phone, don’t be­lieve any­body who claims to be from the IRS -— es­pe­cially one who de­mands you cough up some dough, or else. There really might be fed­er­al em­ploy­ees who think you nibbled at the truth on your tax re­turn, but they aren’t call­ing. Con artists are.

So, the tax agency’s ad­vice is: Don’t talk to them; they are look­ing to scam you big time. It seems like com­mon sense to just hang up, but many people don’t.

Many, many people.

The IRS and the Treas­ury In­spect­or Gen­er­al for Tax Ad­min­is­tra­tion have re­ceived 90,000 com­plaints from people who have been called by these crooks. And, ac­cord­ing to an Aug. 13 IRS news re­lease, 1,100 vic­tims have lost $5 mil­lion.

“There are clear warn­ing signs about these scams, which con­tin­ue at high levels throughout the na­tion,” said IRS Com­mis­sion­er John Koskin­en. “Tax­pay­ers should re­mem­ber their first con­tact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through of­fi­cial cor­res­pond­ence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threat­en­ing calls from people who say they are from the IRS and ur­ging im­me­di­ate pay­ment. This is not how we op­er­ate. People should hang up im­me­di­ately and con­tact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Fur­ther, the IRS would nev­er do what the con artists do. Nobody from the IRS would ask you for cred­it or deb­it card or pre­paid card info. Sim­il­arly, IRS em­ploy­ees wouldn’t in­sist tax­pay­ers use a spe­cif­ic pay­ment meth­od to pay tax ob­lig­a­tions. IRS work­ers would not ask for PINs, pass­words or oth­er per­son­al in­form­a­tion.

The IRS nev­er re­quests im­me­di­ate pay­ment over the tele­phone and would not threaten to take en­force­ment ac­tion im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion. Tax­pay­ers usu­ally re­ceive pri­or no­ti­fic­a­tion of IRS en­force­ment ac­tion in­volving IRS tax li­ens or levies. 

Con artists have two tools that serve them well: Fear and greed. If they can scare you or make you think you’ve got money com­ing, they’ve got you.

So don’t be had.

“Po­ten­tial phone scam vic­tims may be told that they owe money that must be paid im­me­di­ately to the IRS or they are en­titled to big re­funds. When un­suc­cess­ful the first time, some­times phone scam­mers call back try­ing a new strategy,” the IRS stated in its re­lease.

Some of the oth­er char­ac­ter­ist­ics of these cons in­clude:

Callers use fake, usu­ally com­mon, names and sur­names and IRS badge num­bers. They might be able to re­cite the last four di­gits of a vic­tim’s So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber. Scam­mers spoof the IRS toll-free num­ber on caller ID to make it ap­pear that it’s the IRS call­ing. Scam­mers some­times send bogus IRS emails to some vic­tims to sup­port their bogus calls. Vic­tims hear back­ground noise of oth­er calls be­ing con­duc­ted to mim­ic a call site. After threat­en­ing vic­tims with jail time or driver’s li­cense re­voc­a­tion, scam­mers hang up and oth­ers soon call back pre­tend­ing to be from the loc­al po­lice or DMV, and the caller ID sup­ports their claim.

In an email to the North­east Times, IRS spokes­wo­man Jenny Jen­kins wrote that she has fielded calls from east­ern Pennsylvania res­id­ents.

“They had re­ceived sus­pi­cious-sound­ing calls from someone who iden­ti­fied him­self as an IRS em­ploy­ee,” she wrote. “They said the man who called them had for­eign-sound­ing ac­cent, and that he threatened con­sequences if they didn’t im­me­di­ately pay the amount he said they owed.”

Be­sides telling these people how to con­tact the IRS, she ad­vised them to call their loc­al law en­force­ment agen­cies to get the word out about the scams.

Any­one who knows taxes are owed and gets one or more of these calls, ac­cord­ing to the IRS, should call the agency’s hot­line, 1-800-829-1040, to get real help.

If you know you don’t owe, or the caller made some bogus threats, then call and re­port the in­cid­ent to TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484.

If you’ve been tar­geted by this scam, you should also con­tact the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion and use it “FTC Com­plaint As­sist­ant” at FTC.gov, and add “IRS Tele­phone Scam” to the com­ments of your com­plaint.

For more in­form­a­tion or to re­port a scam, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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