Tax season has returned and with it comes the scams aiming to defraud people with Internal Revenue Service threats from bogus agents.
The scam starts with an individual getting an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from the IRS. The individual is told they have an outstanding tax bill that must be paid immediately or face possible imprisonment, loss of license or deportation. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave "urgent" callback requests through phone "robo-calls," or via a phishing email.
Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim's name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.
"Taxpayers across the nation face a deluge of these aggressive phone scams. Don't be fooled by callers pretending to be from the IRS in an attempt to steal your money," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a news release. "We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you're not hearing from us."
There are plenty of individuals who have fallen victim to the scam. This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam.
"There are many variations. The caller may threaten you with arrest or court action to trick you into making a payment," Koskinen added. "Some schemes may say you're entitled to a huge refund. These all add up to trouble."
Turlock resident Lynn Sarraille received one such robo-call, but right from the start she knew something was amiss.
"It started off by stating ‘we have been looking for you,' which instantly got me upset," Sarraille said. "It went on the state that I owe the IRS a substantial amount of money and need to call them back immediately to take care of it. I ignored it and then they called back again with the same message and that got me mad."
Sarrille visited the IRS website where she learned she wasn't the only one who had been targeted for this scam. She was able to register the telephone number that sent the call with the IRS. The Journal tried calling the number that sent the robo-call, but could only get a "no longer in service" message.
"I'm a fairly level-headed person and I know we pay our taxes on time, but this still got me upset," Sarrille said. "I can imagine the fear it must cause people who are much more fragile and have a less tenuous understanding of our government. They use that fear factor, but it's a scam and people should not be afraid of it."
Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.
The IRS will never:
• Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
• Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
• Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here's what you should do:
If you don't owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:
• Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
• Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their "IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting" web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
• Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the "FTC Complaint Assistant" on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.