The phone rang the other night. I looked at the caller ID and decided to answer it because I was curious who was calling. The caller was male with a foreign accent, stating he was from the IRS, and I owed unpaid taxes. He stated if I didn’t pay the taxes, the sheriff would be at my door with an arrest warrant.
IRS. Really! There are no three letters that strike more fear and anxiety in the general public than IRS. The thought of an IRS audit can reduce grown men and women to tears. The IRS can take everything we’ve worked so hard to get. We’ve heard horror stories about bank accounts being seized without recourse. It’s viewed as federal government’s most unfeeling and downright mean agency.
Across the country, scammers are using this fear to steal millions of dollars from everyday citizens, business people and even immigrants. Federal officials say it is the biggest scam of its type they have ever seen, costing consumers more than $1 million and generating over 20,000 complaints.
It works like this. Scammers call or email their targets, claiming to be from the IRS and stating the person or business owes taxes. They threaten their victims with arrest, loss of driver’s license, closing down a business and even deportation if victims don’t pay up immediately.
These thieves demand payment with a prepaid debit card, credit card or wire transfer.
Scam artists that commit this theft will often use common names and fake IRS badge numbers. Sometimes they know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number and have a phone system to make caller ID appear as if the call is from the IRS. The crooks even send bogus IRS emails to back up the phone call and go as far as to make a follow-up call claiming to be the police or DMV, again with caller IDs that support their claim.
The callers are often aggressive and high pressure, leaving a callback number with a Washington, D.C., area code that answers: “You have reached the investigations division of the Internal Revenue Service, Washington, D.C.”
Scammers know that people often panic if threatened with arrest, court or deportation, and they willingly pay thousands of dollars with prepaid debit card, credit cards or wired money transfers.
The truth is, the IRS does not make phone calls or send emails about unpaid taxes. The only way they contact you is to send a letter in the mail. The IRS doesn’t ask for payment with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. And certainly it won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.
If you get a phone call or email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, hang up the phone or delete the email.
To protect yourself from these crooks:
• Never provide any account or personal information. Hang up! Don’t press a number to speak with a live operator.
• Never wire or send a prepaid debit card to anyone you don’t know.
• If you think you may owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or visit the website at irs.gov.
• If you get a bogus call, report it to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
• Forward emails supposedly from IRS to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t open any attachment or click a link.
Cheryl Parson is President of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.