The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration cautioned taxpayers to stay on “high alert” next tax season so they don’t fall prey to criminals who pretend to be employees of the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department.

TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George noted pointed to progress in investigating and prosecuting IRS impersonators, who have stolen more than $61 million from taxpayers since 2013. So far, TIGTA investigations have led to federal charges against more than 90 people. In October 2016, authorities named 56 people in the U.S. and India and five call centers in India in a sweeping federal indictment, accusing them of taking part in the IRS impersonation scam and other frauds. The following month, the last of the 24 U.S.-based defendants pleaded guilty.

Despite that success over a year ago, TIGTA continues to hear of thousands of contacts every month in which criminals claiming be IRS officials make unsolicited calls and “robocalls” to taxpayers, demanding payment for back taxes. The scam has hit taxpayers in every state. The criminals threaten to taxpayers with arrest, imprisonment, deportation, grand jury indictment, loss of a business or driver’s license, or other punishments, if they don’t immediately pay for taxes they don’t even owe.

Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George addressing a House subcommittee
Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George addressing a House subcommittee Bloomberg News

“We continue to make great strides in our investigation of this scam, including the successful prosecution of over one dozen individuals associated with it over the past year,” said George in a statement. “We continue to pursue these individuals aggressively, and late last month, we arrested four more people who were charged with participating in the scheme. Please remember to remain on guard against fraudulent calls. If you receive one, hang up, and report the call immediately to our website,” he added.”

As of Nov. 13, 2017, TIGTA has heard from more than 2.1 million taxpayers who reported phone calls from the scammers. Of those, more than 12,400 victims reported paying a total of more than $61.6 million to the criminals. An average of between 30 and 40 new victims each week report that they paid the impersonators money, but George pointed out that's a big improvement over the hundreds of victims who reported last year they had paid the scammers.

“Still, even one victim is too many,” he added. “All Americans must remain wary of these attempts to impersonate government officials.”

TIGTA has been running public service announcement videos in English and in Spanish to warn taxpayers about the scam as well as working with partners in the public and private sectors to get the word out about the problem. TIGTA has also posted an IRS scam flyer along with a poster on its website.

TIGTA noted the IRS generally first contacts people by mail—not by phone—about unpaid taxes, and the IRS won’t request payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order, or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.