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Fraud alert: Beware of telephone and email tax scams

11/25/2015

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

NORTH VALLEY – Scammers don’t take the holidays off, and this holiday season, local law enforcement agencies are warning the community to be aware of continuing email and phone scams designed to defraud taxpayers.

Local residents have recently been targeted by telephone scammers who demand money and threaten residents if funds aren’t immediately sent. The scammers claim to be from the IRS; they try to threaten and scam taxpayers. The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office is reporting that they have been receiving numerous reports of telephone tax scams.

Last week, YCSO sent out a warning regarding the scam, noting that the most common report involves scam artists impersonating IRS agents and calling to demand money or telling victims that a tax refund is due as a means to obtain personal information.

“When the scammer claims an overdue tax payment, the suspects will demand the taxpayer send cash via prepaid debit cards. The calls are also intimidating because many of the scammers already had specific knowledge regarding victim identities,” the YCSO release notes.

The IRS does not call and demand payment from taxpayers. If you do owe taxes, you’ll get a letter from the IRS before any other contact attempts. The scammers may threaten imprisonment if you don’t pay them immediately with a prepaid debit card. The IRS doesn’t threaten taxpayers with prison, and they don’t specify how back taxes have to be paid, either.

If you get one of these calls, law enforcement says to hang up immediately. Don’t keep the scammer on the line; hang up and report the call to the Treasury Inspector General Tax Administration: www.treasury.gov/tigta or 1(800) 366-4484.

“Don’t engage – hang up,” emphasized Bill Brunson, IRS Media Relations. “If you feel there is some possible issue with your taxes and the Internal Revenue Service, contact the Internal Revenue Service yourself.”

Brunson referred to the telephone scams as “an ongoing issue.” Variations of this scam have been around for over 20 years. The impersonation scam is a newer variation of the phone scam and is one of the more sophisticated versions. Scammers can go as far as spoofing the caller ID so that it comes up as being from the IRS or a local police department. The scammers can also make the number appear to be local when it is not.

Brunson noted that some of the phone scammers have even told victims to mail a payment receipt in and given out the address of a real IRS office. When victims mailed in these receipts for the fraudulent claims, agents found that these taxpayers had fallen victim to a phone scam.

Scammers also use telephone and email scams to steal victims’ identities. In a Nov. 19 release, the Internal Revenue Service announced that the IRS was joining forces with state tax administrators and the private-sector tax industry to help more people learn how to protect their personal and financial data online and at home. According to the release, the “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign is designed to raise public awareness that even routine actions on the Internet and their personal devices can affect the safety of their financial and tax data.  

“Identity thieves are evolving, and so must we. Everyone has a part to play,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in the IRS release. “The IRS, the states, and the tax industry are putting in place even tougher safeguards for 2016. But, we need the public’s help. We need people to join with us and take an active role in protecting their personal and financial data from thieves.”

This consumer safety campaign includes YouTube videos, consumer-friendly Tax Tips each week, and local events across the country. Information on this campaign, as well as other ways to protect yourself from scammers, is available at IRS.gov, state Web sites, and tax software Web sites.

In the Nov. 19 release, the IRS referred to “increasingly sophisticated identity thieves,” noting that these scammers have managed to access personal and financial data. According to the release, the scammers buy and sell this data, as well as use it to file fraudulent tax returns using victims’ names and Social Security numbers. The IRS and other agencies are working to prevent this fraud and protect taxpayers, and they’re also asking taxpayers to be especially vigilant to protect themselves from scammers. If your identity is stolen and used to file a fraudulent return, the IRS will work with you to get you your tax refund if you were eligible for one.

Brunson recommended that taxpayers have security software that automatically updates on their computers to help avoid computer viruses. Signing up for alerts on credit cards and regularly checking your credit history for new inquiries is also recommended.

Brunson cautioned people to be very careful with emails that supposedly are from the IRS, banks, credit card companies, etc. For example, if residents get an email that appears to be from their bank, Brunson emphasized that they should go directly to the bank Web site and verify any information there. No reputable company will ask for passwords, financial information, or personal data via email. People also need to be careful of email attachments, through which unsuspecting users can download a virus.

“Unless you know where that email is coming from, don’t respond to it, don’t click on links, don’t open that attachment,” Brunson stated.

Awareness and education are the best ways to fight scammers and put them out of business.

“We need folks who get this information to share it with older family/friends who are generally the target of these calls and may not see the publicity on this issue,” said Dwight D’Evelyn of YCSO, in an email list of ways to protect yourself from scammers.

Knowing that the IRS will never threaten you with imprisonment, demand a certain form of payment, or cold call you can help you recognize a scam call if you get one.

“We’re not going to ask you for debit or credit information over the phone. We’re not going to threaten you. The Internal Revenue Service just doesn’t do business like that,” Brunson emphasized.

Is a scammer calling you? Note these five things the IRS will never do:

The IRS will not:
Call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
Demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe.
Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
Ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:
Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
Contact TIGTA to report the call: www.treasury.gov/tigta or 1(800) 366-4484
Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov, with "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:
Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
Call the IRS at 1(800) 829-1040. IRS workers can help you.