Pictured is Glendale Police Officer Jay O’Neill, who spoke at a conference on Sept. 3 regarding an IRS impersonation scam. If you or someone you know may have been a victim of this fraud, call the Treasury Inspector’s fraud hotline at 1(800) 366-4484.
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IRS warning Arizonans of impersonation phone scam

Elizabeth Medora~ 9/10/2014

NORTH VALLEY – Contact from the IRS saying you owe thousands of dollars is a nightmarish situation. Unfortunately, scammers prey on that fear, and IRS agent impersonators are working a new phone scam to try to steal money.

The scam is simple, yet brutally effective: a scammer calls an unsuspecting resident and tells them they owe money to the IRS. The caller might threaten imprisonment or loss of immigration status if the resident doesn’t pay that day. The resident is told to get a prepaid money card or set up a wire transfer to pay. The victim may be bullied by repeated threats into paying this money.

This isn’t a new idea; phone scams have been around for years. However, a new twist has grown this scam into a major issue for the United States. The scammers’ caller ID may show up as the IRS. The callers will identify themselves with fake badge numbers. If someone calls them back at the number or asks to speak to a manager, the scammers are prepared for it and will continue to masquerade as IRS agents. Some victims even reported hearing sirens in the background of the call and being told it was the police coming to arrest them.

“Here’s the bottom line: the IRS will never call saying give us money, and give it to us now,” stated Matt Richards, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administrations. Richards is part of the team investigating this fraud.

“If you get a call from anybody claiming to be an IRS employee and using that threatening language, it is a fraud,” Richards said. “Immediately hang up and call the IRS.”

Richards noted that this is the “largest scale IRS impersonation scam that we’ve seen with our agency,” with over 1,200 victims being swindled out of $5 million total, $80,000 coming from Arizonans.

Internal Revenue Service spokesperson Bill Brunson said the scam is “applying new technology to an old tool.” When people hang up on the scammers, they may get a follow-up fraudulent call spoofing the caller ID of a police department.

Glendale Police Officer Sergeant Jay O’Neill noted that the police don’t generally get involved with tax debts and that anyone threatening immediate arrest for back taxes is a scammer.

“We’ve had six calls in the last 60 days, and there may be more,” O’Neill said, noting that this is often an under-reported crime.

“We believe that there are many, many more victims out there,” O’Neill added. He cautioned residents to never to give out personal information to someone calling with these threats.

“Tell them you’ll call back, then hang up and use your local directory and call your local police department,” O’Neill emphasized.

While some of the threatening calls seem to be aimed at immigrants and retirees, these scammers may contact anyone. Some of the scammers have personal information on their victims.

In one case, however, a scammer didn’t do their homework – they called an IRS agent and tried to scam her.

IRS Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent Lisa Sukenic related how she was targeted by the scammers, who called her husband and threatened Sukenic’s imminent arrest.

Sukenic’s husband, who is a federal prosecutor, recognized the scam. He kept the caller on the line and tried to get further information to identify the scammer to authorities.

“My husband tried to get as much information as possible,” Sukenic said. “When he challenged her (the fraudulent caller), she became flustered and couldn’t provide an address. She became more and more aggressive.”

Her family received a second scamming phone call hours later, saying Sukenic was going to be put in handcuffs if they didn’t pay.

“Everybody needs to be aware,” Sukenic said. “Challenge them, hang up, tell them this is a scam, and report it to the Treasury General. Do not provide them with any information. The IRS would never call you and demand personal information. Contact the Treasury Inspector General and the Federal Trade Commission.”

The widespread nature of this scam has made it a priority for federal and state investigators. Reports of this particular fraud started last year.

The IRS is trying to get the word out so people know that these callers are not IRS agents, even if they sound legitimate. The IRS released a statement about the scam, identifying five fraudulent factors of the call, all things the IRS would not do.

Per the statement, the IRS will not:

  • Call you about taxes you owe without mailing you an official notice.
  • 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.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

Special Agent Richards noted that he could not comment on the ongoing investigation due to concerns of compromising it. He did say that the U.S. is not the only country targeted and noted that the scam does not appear to be connected to any corporate breaches. When the scammers are identified and arrested, charges will be brought; if the scammers are located outside the U.S., the charges will depend on the investigative authority available.

Richards said the scam is a “priority with our agency, federal agencies, and local and state authorities.”

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, hang up and call the Treasury Inspector General Tax Administration fraud hotline at 1(800) 366-4484. For more information, see www.FTC.gov.