As I wrote last week, schemes that prey on consumers are a dime a dozen and there’s no shortage of examples from victims. The calls, emails and comments I received indicated as much.
Most went like this:
“I’ve had this happen,” said one commenter.
“Yep,” an e-mailer said. “Happened to me, too.”
“It’s happened to me a number of times,” another confessed.
Others said avoiding the scam was common sense. Sure, if you know what to look for. But for those that are unfamiliar with the ruse, the tactics, fraught with immediacy and a threatening tone, can be effective. But what happens when criminals up the ante, claiming to be more than just a computer sales tech?
A reader recently called the Times Leader asking for help. She said a man called her claiming to be with the IRS. He knew her name and address and threatened to have her arrested if she did not pay several thousand dollars — today.
Brushing off some computer techie is one thing, but hearing the letters I-R-S can perk up a consumer’s eyebrows and resonate much more strongly. Phrases like “jail time” and “federal tax evasion” don’t help suppress the concern.
Like the scams afflicting Microsoft, criminals have also impersonated IRS agents as a means to shake victims into spilling vital information. As is the case with the software giant, IRS officials appear to be on top of the issue.
Jennifer Jenkins, IRS spokesperson, said she was glad to hear our reader was on top of the “pervasive, sophisticated scam,” refusing to buy into it and even calling out the phony phonester.
But thousands of people still fall for the trick, Jenkins said, enough that IRS officials were prompted to issue a warning just this month.
Citing “new variations” of the scam, the IRS warns that the schemes, which can occur over the phone, in e-mails or through letters with authentic-looking letterhead, try to trick taxpayers into providing personal financial information or scare people into making a false tax payment that ends up with the criminal.
Since 2013, at least 600,000 cases have been reported. Over 4,000 were victimized, sending the scammers $20 million in payments.
In the past, IRS officials said scammers targeted mostly the elderly and recently-arrived immigrants. Now, their sights are set on anyone and everyone.
Other IRS employees and even Jenkins herself received the calls.
And for these brazen bandits, everything is on the table: Bogus badge numbers, fake titles, threatening to involve the police, and even altering their phone number to appear like the call is genuinely from the IRS or another government agency.
Here’s what you can do when faced with a fake caller:
• If you actually do owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
• If you know you don’t owe taxes or aren’t sure if you do, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
• If you’ve been targeted by any scam, be sure to contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL