The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a warning Thursday as millions of taxpayers raced to meet the October 15 deadline for tax extensions that although it is making some progress in its investigation of a phone fraud scam perpetrated by individuals misrepresenting themselves as Internal Revenue Service employees, taxpayers should continue to beware of these fraudulent phone calls.
“We have made progress in our investigation of this scam, resulting in the successful prosecution of some individuals associated with it over the past year,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “This summer, a ringleader was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison. However, this is still a matter of high investigative priority, and we will not rest until all individuals associated with this fraud have been brought to justice.”
TIGTA noted that it continues to receive reports of thousands of contacts every month in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards, he said.
“Even after the tax filing season has ended, it is critical that all taxpayers continue to be wary of unsolicited telephone calls from individuals claiming to be IRS employees,” George said. "This scam has proven to be the largest of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive, they are relentless and they are ruthless. Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash.”
TIGTA has received reports of approximately 736,000 contacts since October 2013 and has become aware of approximately 4,550 victims who have collectively paid over $23 million as a result of the scam, in which criminals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards.
“The increasing number of people receiving these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming,” said George. “At all times, and even after the tax filing season, we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alerted to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals,” he said, adding, “Do not become a victim.”
“This is a crime of opportunity, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to take away the opportunity,” he added. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you do not pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling, and your cue to hang up. Again, do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone.”
George noted that the scam has hit taxpayers in every state in the country. Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with being charged for a criminal violation, immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license.
TIGTA is taking steps to raise consumer awareness to this harmful scam, partnering with the Federal Trade Commission, the Veteran’s Administration and private sector companies to distribute messages that warn people about the scam with a series of “Alerts.”
TIGTA pointed out that the IRS generally first contacts people by mail—not by phone—about unpaid taxes and the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number over the phone.
The callers who commit this fraud often:
• Employ an automated robocall machine.
• Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
• May know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
• Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
• Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
• Call a second or third time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do: If you owe federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
• If you do not owe taxes, fill out the “IRS Impersonation scam” form on TIGTA’s website, www.treasury.gov/tigta, or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484.
• You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.
TIGTA encourages taxpayers to be alert for phone and e-mail scams that use the IRS name. The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text, or any social media. You should forward scam e-mails to email@example.com. Do not open any attachments or click on any links in those e-mails.
Taxpayers should also be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes winner) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
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