Multiple law enforcement agencies are warning Bay area residents to beware of scammers posing as fake IRS agents claiming you are going to be sued or jailed if you do not immediately pay them money.
Debbie Barrett, a Wesley Chapel resident, received four calls Wednesday morning.
"It was a little threatening and I was a little concerned, I thought at first maybe we had done something wrong," explained Barrett.
Barrett was smart and blocked the phone number.
"Yeah, they're a little persistent," Barrett said.
Elina Linderman, who has prepared tax returns for 20 years and now owns and operates La Rusa, a tax and bookkeeping business, even received this same call on her business line.
"The IRS will never call you out of the blue," said Linderman.
She added the scammers play on your emotions.
"People are afraid of IRS of course, so when they get it, they panic, they don't think anything through," Linderman added.
IRS PHONE SCAM MAY VARY
According to the IRS, these phone scams include many variations, ranging from instances from where callers say the victims owe money or are entitled to a huge refund. Some calls can threaten arrest and threaten a driver’s license revocation. Sometimes these calls are paired with follow-up calls from people saying they are from the local police department or the state motor vehicle department.
Characteristics of these scams can include:
- Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
- Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.
- Scammers “spoof” or imitate the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
- Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
- Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
- These scammers often: use common names and fake IRS badge numbers; know the last four digits of your Social Security number; demand payment via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS doesn’t ask for either of these payment methods, nor will they ask for credit card numbers; rig caller ID information to appear as if the IRS really is calling; send fake emails that look like legitimate IRS correspondence; make a second call claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, rigging the caller ID information
After threatening victims with jail time or a driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.
In another variation, one sophisticated phone scam has targeted taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
WHO IS CALLING YOU?
ABC ActIon News calls back a number provided in a voicemail left by a scammer.
A woman answered and identified herself as being with the IRS.
She told us we could settle a lawsuit if we paid money.
When we further questioned the woman, she hung up the phone.
We repeatedly called back looking for answers but the line kept ringing busy.
Many of those targeted have received numbers with the Washington D.C. area code of 202. In Barrett's case, the call came from Washington state.
TIPS TO KEEP YOU SAFE
According to Linderman, to protect yourself and your money you need to remember the following:
- The IRS will NOT call you.
- The IRS corresponds through USPS, mainly certified mail.
- The IRS has their own website www.irs.gov Callers may instruct you to go to other web addresses with endings like US or FED.
- The IRS will not email you.
- Keep in mind, IRS agents are tough to get on the phone. Linderman says even when she calls, she can be kept on hold for 15-20 minutes.
- Google any suspicious number that calls you. It should show if it is a scam number.
- Under a new law passed in December 2015--- the IRS can now use collection agencies to collect money. However, you will first receive a letter in the mail and the letter will contain the name of the agency and the agency number.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU GET A SCAM CALL?
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do: If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
If you’ve been targeted by these scams, you should 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."