By CALVIN PYNN
As tax season is in full swing, taxpayers are urged to watch out for a phone scam that has been targeting people recently.
The pervasive phone scam has been going on for several months now, and victimized taxpayers all over the country. Now that a high volume of people are filing their federal income taxes, particularly around President’s Day, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is encouraging taxpayers be extra protective and cautious with their sensitive personal information.
“A lot of people have taxes on the mind right now,” said Mark Hanson, IRS spokesman for Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. “It’s conceivable that somebody may file and get a call around the same time, and they may think it’s the IRS, but it’s not.”
According to Hanson, the scam artist will call the targeted taxpayer with information they have somehow obtained, claiming to represent the IRS. They have even managed to use caller ID spoofing, so it appears that the IRS called them from a legitimate phone number.
Once in contact they will tell the taxpayer they owe back taxes, and need to provide a credit, debit, or bank account routing number in order to load money onto a prepaid card to process the payment. The scam artists have been known to become hostile when the victim won’t comply – using inappropriate language, and making threats in order to scare the person into compliance.
Hanson also said the scam will sometimes target recent immigrants, and scam artists have been known to threaten taxpayer’s immigration status.
“These are just things that the IRS would not do, so we want to get the word out there so people do not fall into one of those traps,” said Hanson.
If there is an issue, the IRS will usually contact taxpayers by sending them a paper notice with specific instructions for what they should do. According to Hanson, the IRS does not call people unexpectedly to demand payments.
As identity theft has become a growing problem in recent years, the IRS has increased enforcement in that area. At this point the IRS doesn’t know exactly how many people have been targeted, or the means by which the scam artists obtain that sensitive information, as it could come from multiple sources.
“What we do know is they have it, that they’re using it, and that they’re up to no good,” said Hanson.
According to Hanson, he hears about scamming incidents like this every day, and that it appears to be a consistent, ongoing issue that has yet to be resolved.
Ultimately, Hanson said the IRS encourages taxpayers to be skeptical, and err on the side of caution when it comes to their sensitive personal information.
“These individuals have criminal intentions, they want to steal from you,” said Hanson. “People just need to remember that when in doubt, taxpayers have a right to protect their sensitive personal information.”
Anyone who thinks they have been targeted by the scam is encouraged to contact local law enforcement first. Those incidents can also be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by calling 1-800-366-4484, contact the Federal Trade Commission using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” at www.ftc.gov.