Phone scammers out for your cash

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura has issued a warning to area taxpayers about telephone scam artists who are intent on getting your money and/ or personal information by pretending to be with the Internal Revenue Service or the sheriff’s office.

The scammers have apparently become active in Essex in recent weeks, but residents in all The Observer towns should be wary. Last year, Bergen County taxpayers were targeted with a similar fraud, which also has been reported in other states.

In the alert issued Thursday, Fontoura noted that “numerous” local residents had contacted his department to report that callers, “many of whom identify themselves as Essex County sheriff’s officers,” have demanded money ostensibly owed to the IRS — or, conversely, have told the call recipient that he/she has a refund due.

The aim is to trick you into paying the “debt” or sharing your private information. “These people are con artists who can sound convincing when they call,” Fontoura said.

How do they persuade you that they are legitimate? As the sheriff explained: “The scam artists may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the Internal Revenue Service or our department is calling you. They use fake names and bogus IRS or police identification badge numbers.”

Fontoura said the scammers frequently claim that they have a warrant for the call recipient, who is threatened with arrest unless the supposed tax debt is paid immediately.

“Do not be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” the sheriff cautioned, highlighting five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. “Any one of these five things,” he said, “is a tell-tale sign of a scam.”

The IRS will NEVER:

• Call to demand immediate payment, nor call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

• 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.

“If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be a sheriff’s officer or a representative of the IRS asking for money,” Fontoura said here’s what you should do:

• If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov. On the website, you can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant: Choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Remember, too, Fontoura noted, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. As for those calls alerting you to a “refund, “these, too, are not legitimate. The aim of the caller is to get your personal info, e.g., Social Security number, bank account data, etc.

For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

 – Karen Zautyk 

The Observer Staff