By Karen Zautyk
Recent police blotters from various towns have included reports of people who received phone calls from a person or persons claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service and demanding immediate payment of fines or back taxes.
In our March 19 edition, for example, Nutley police noted that a township resident had been warned by a caller that the IRS would freeze his bank accounts, credit cards and passport unless he forked over more than $3,600 in “money due.”
He was instructed to purchase eight Green Point money pack cards adding up to the total, scratch off the cards, return the call to the “IRS” at a number provided and read the account numbers over the phone.
Later, an alleged “IRS supervisor” called him back, said the agency refused to accept the cards and demanded an additional $6,292.
At that point, the man balked. And called the cops.
It turns out that the Nutleyite and a multitude of others are the victims of what the U.S. Treasury Department is calling “the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen.”
The phone predators have been operating for awhile and could ramp up their efforts as April 15 approaches — and continue after the deadline passes.
Last week, J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA), noted that TIGTA has received reports of more than 20,000 fraudulent phone contacts and thousands of victims who have collectively paid over $1 million to the scamsters.
“The increasing number of people receiving these unsolicited calls from individuals who fraudulently claim to represent the IRS is alarming,” George said.
“At all times, and particularly during the tax filing season, we want to make sure that innocent taxpayers are alert to this scam so they are not harmed by these criminals,” George said, adding, “Do not become a victim.”
The inspector general said the sophisticated operation has targeted people in nearly every state. Callers claiming to be from the IRS tell intended victims they owe taxes or penalties and must pay using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.
The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation, loss of a business or driver’s license — or, as in the Nutley case, freezing of assets and of credit.
The N.J. Department of Consumer Affairs last week also warned that the scammers sometimes try to obtain the victim’s personal information, such as Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers, or other sensitive data.
However, they sometimes already have gained access to personal information and use this to “prove” their government affiliation.
As noted, the criminals are sophisticated and technosavvy. They might send emails that appear to be from the official IRS website, and they have set up Caller ID numbers that also appear to be from the agency but are not.
The first thing to remember to protect yourself is: The IRS does NOT usually contact taxpayers by phone or email. It uses snail mail.
Repeat: Snail mail.
“And,” TIGTA emphasized, “the IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.”
George warned, “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.”
According to TIGTA, the callers who commit this fraud often:
* Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
* Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number.
* Make Caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
*Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
*Call a second time claiming to be the police or Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Caller ID again supports their claim.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here is what authorities say you should do:
* If you owe federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.
* If you don’t owe taxes, hang up and report the incident to TIGTA at 800- 366-4484.
* You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at http:// www.ftc.gov/. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.
The IRS will not request personal or financial information by e-mail, texting or any social media, TIGTA notes. You should forward scam emails to email@example.com.
And do not open any attachments or click on any links in those e-mails.
The state Department of Consumer Affairs also suggests that consumers who receive one of these “IRS” calls should simply hang up, never provide any personal information or make any payment, and file a complaint with the local police as well as contacting TIGTA and the FTC.
TIGTA advises that taxpayers should be aware that there are other, unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes winner) and solicitations (such as debtrelief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
More information about tax scams can be found on the genuine IRS website at http://www.irs.gov/.