IRS impersonators prey on vulnerable victims

IRS impersonators prey on vulnerable victims

It's tax season and the scammers are out in full force, out to steal taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. The IRS and the BBB warn that IRS impersonators are calling around the area, trying to cash in by purloining people's personal information and using threats to divert vulnerable victims' cash into the fraudsters' own pockets.

According to a recent news release from the IRS, criminals impersonating IRS agents has been and remains a problem in the area, keeping the ploy near the top of the annual "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams for the 2015 filing season and leaving some of the community's most defenseless citizens in financial distress.

IRS-CI is the criminal investigations unit of the IRS. IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Damon Rowe, who is over the Southeast Texas region, told The Examiner the scam artists often target the community’s most susceptible citizens.

“One of the biggest scams is the IRS impersonation scam,” SAC Rowe explained. “IRS impersonation scams typically target elderly people, people they can reach at home. What they (the scammers) do is impersonate an IRS officer and make threatening gestures, saying they will call the police, demanding money. They demand that you go get a debit card for some certain amount, say $2000, that they say you owe. For some reason, they are able to get certain information, like where you lived two years ago.”

Because the scammers have the resident’s personal information, the callers could seem legitimate, said Rowe. For law-abiding citizens who worry about potential repercussions by the IRS, the calls can be quite disconcerting.

“People who may fear actions against them by the IRS, they go ahead and give them this information,” SAC Rowe related.

The IRS has reportedly seen a surge of these phone scams in recent months as extortion artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things. The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that arise during any filing season.

"If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don't pay immediately, it's a scam artist calling,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a news release Jan. 28. "The first IRS contact with taxpayers is usually through the mail. Taxpayers have rights, and this is not how we do business."

According to SAC Rowe, another obstacle for victims’ in identifying the scammer as an impersonator is that the calls themselves may appear to come from anywhere, like somewhere local, through the use of anonymizing technology. He said it could appear as though the caller were calling from a local area code when in reality they are 1000 miles away.

“It could appear they are calling from Washington, D.C., when they are really calling from California,” Rowe warned.

Dispute Resolution Director Jay Sheppard of the Better Business Bureau serving Southeast Texas said her office has received numerous calls in the last couple of weeks regarding the IRS scam, with consumers reporting having received a phone call from someone leading them to believe that they represent the IRS. According to her, it is not only possible for the con artists to make it look as though they are calling from a local number, but may even be able to make it look as though the call is actually coming from the true federal taxing agency.

“The caller provides a fake name and often utilizes technology to alter the caller ID to make it look like the real IRS is calling,” Sheppard explained. “They may also provide an identification badge number which is bogus.”

She agreed that the impersonation scam plays out as SAC Rowe described and said that besides forcing the victim to provide pre-paid debit card information, the crooks could instead attain the funds through a wire transfer.

SAC Rowe and Sheppard warn that con artists are using technological advances and sometimes even working with hackers to obtain personal data.

“In some instances, hackers have teamed up with what we call ‘financial hitmen’,” he said, explaining that the financial hitmen are the traditional confidence men who often mastermind the moneymaking schemes.

“These scam artists are aggressive and may utilize social media and other sources to learn detailed information about their victims,” Sheppard told The Examiner. “In some cases, the caller becomes hostile and threatens those who are recent immigrants with deportation.”

She said the majority of people reporting the scam to the BBB did not fall for the scare tactics employed by the calling crooks, but those who did may not want to come forward.

“Fortunately the majority of calls received by our office are from consumers who recognized the ‘red flags’ and did not fall for the scam,” said Sheppard. “Unfortunately, we are aware that the ones that did fall for the scam and paid money or provided personal information are often too embarrassed to notify anyone.” 

Sheppard said anyone can be taken in by a scam artist, and it is too important not to notify the proper authorities when one is taken advantage of by these impostors.

“BBB encourages families and friends to reach out to those who live alone and are the most vulnerable,” she said. “By asking questions and providing resources and information, families and friends can be proactive and prevent scams from affecting their loved ones.”

“Taxpayers need to be cautious,” SAC Rowe emphasized. “These con artists are abusing the system to prey on legitimate taxpayers.”

He said the scammers should also be wary, but for a different reason.

“They face fines and federal prison time per statute violated,” SAC Rowe said, explaining that means they face numerous separate charges for each scam or conspiracy. “They face a lot of time in prison and a lot in fines, plus restitution.

“We want to warn people to do their homework.”

To stay informed, visit www.bbb.org/scam-stopper where you can report scams, sign up for scam alerts, and view videos and other scam-related information.

Additional information about tax scams is also available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube http://www.youtube.com/irsvideos and Tumblr http://internalrevenueservice.tumblr.com, where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

The IRS has several suggestions for people who get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money. According to them, if you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.

If you’ve been targeted by the impersonation scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

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