By Howard L Richshafer: November 4, 2016
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! In recent years, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams and fake IRS communications.
An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS, but are not. These con artists sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like IRS is calling. Victims are told they owe money to IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Or, victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.
But good news just arrived. On October 27, 2016, the federal government announced the unsealing of an indictment in Texas of 61 individuals and entities for scamming the public, and victimizing tens of thousands out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
These 61 defendants were allegedly involved in a transnational criminal organization that conspired to commit identity theft, false impersonation of IRS officers, wire fraud, and money laundering. In connection with the identified scheme, 20 individuals were arrested in the U.S., and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged conspiratorial involvement.
The indictment was returned by a Texas grand jury and charged call center operators with calling potential victims while impersonating officials from IRS or U.S. immigration. The operators threatened victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay back taxes or penalties to the government. If victims agreed to pay out of fear, the call centers would then immediately turn to a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or using wire transfers.
- Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, reported that the Treasury Department is concerned that these scam impersonation calls may continue. He warned the public that they may receive such calls from someone out of the blue who claim to represent IRS or Treasury, and demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or a lawsuit. According to Mr George, such calls are scams, and the best thing to do is to just hang up the phone and report the call to IRS.
Note: IRS will:
- Never call and demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
- Never threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
- Never demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Never initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.
- Never threaten taxpayers with lawsuits or imprisonment.
Being able to recognize these tell-tale signs of a phishing or tax scam could save you from becoming a victim.
Point to Always Remember: Scammers Change Tactics — Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to the public, but variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round and they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike.
The author reported what the public should do upon receiving such scam IRS impersonation calls in his article on this website titled “IRS Agents Arrest Five Phone Scammers” (June 1, 2016). If you receive such a call, review that article and do not send any money to the caller.