IRS phone scam grows

Published 7:55 pm Monday, March 16, 2015

The Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers of scam artists who are stealing money in the name of the IRS.

The scam has been ongoing for many months but has recently gained steam, said Mark Hanson, an IRS spokesman. About 3,000 victims nationwide have lost about $14 million — nearly $5,000 each.

“You get a call from an individual who tells you they’re an IRS employee and you owe back taxes,” Hanson said, explaining the scam. “They use any number of threats to get you to play ball.”

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Potential victims might be threatened with arrest, having their business license revoked or, if the scammer knows they might be in the United States illegally, threatened with deportation.

“They start harassing you and demanding payment of a fictitious tax bill,” Hanson said.

Victims are asked to go to a local retailer and pick up a prepaid debit card, then provide the scammer with the number on the card.

Lending the appearance of legitimacy to their scam, the scammers sometimes are able to make it appear that the call truly is coming from the IRS. The caller ID might say “IRS” or “Internal Revenue Service,” and sometimes the return number appears to be a legitimate IRS number.

“It appears the call really is coming from the IRS, even though it’s not,” Hanson said.

The scammers also might have part or all of the Social Security number for the taxpayer, as well as their name or address.

“They’ve managed to get ahold of some pretty sensitive data,” Hanson said.

People who receive a call such as this should, first of all, not give the scam artists any information.

“The first thing you want to do is not provide them any information,” Hanson said. “Get off the phone. Then the IRS encourages taxpayers to report the scam.”

Calling 1-800-366-4484 will connect the taxpayer with the U.S. Treasury Inspector General, who will file the report.

Hanson added that the IRS will never use the telephone or social media as the first contact about a legitimate tax bill that’s due.

“The first contact will probably be a notice in the mail through the U.S. Postal Service,” he said.