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IRS alert: Phone scammers are trying new tactics

Posted at 11:55 AM, Mar 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-14 13:55:08-04

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers, but now the IRS says it has been receiving new reports of scammers calling under the guise of verifying tax return information over the phone.

The latest variation investigators have been seeing in the past few weeks tries to play off the current tax season, officials said. Scam artists call unsuspecting people saying they have their tax return, and need to verify a few details to process the return. The scammer tries to get people to give up personal information such as a Social Security number or personal financial information, such as bank numbers or credit cards.

“These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard, just as they are preparing their tax returns,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”

The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that continually change. The IRS, the states and the tax industry came together in 2015 and launched a public awareness campaign called Taxes. Security. Together. to help educate taxpayers about the need to maintain security online and to recognize and avoid “phishing” and other schemes.

The IRS says it is continuing to hear reports of phone scams and e-mail phishing schemes across the country.

“These schemes touch people in every part of the country and in every walk of life. It’s a growing list of people who’ve encountered these. I’ve even gotten these calls myself,” Koskinen said.

This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 phone scam contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam. Just this year, IRS officials have seen a 400 percent increase in phishing schemes.

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email. They’ve even begun politely asking taxpayers to verify their identity over the phone.

Many phone scammers use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying, officials said. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Here are some things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

· Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.

· Call or e-mail you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.

· Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

· Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

· Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or email.

· Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, the IRS recommends that you:

· Do not give out any information. Instead, hang up immediately.

· Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.

· Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.