Shutdown Gives Tax Scammers New Opportunities to Steal
Being pursued by the Internal Revenue Service for outstanding tax liabilities can be stressful.
Forbes reports that being pursued by the fake Internal Revenue Service is even worse.
Scammers are increasingly capitalizing on the fears of taxpayers in order to illegally obtain personal and financial information. These scammers realize that, with an arsenal of collections weapons at their disposal – from liens to bank levies to wage garnishment – the IRS can be pretty intimidating. And effective. Using those same threats, scammers pose as IRS representatives seeking to collect back taxes.
While such scams have typically involved email, the newest iteration is using telephone calls from persons purporting to be from the IRS. It turns out that there are a number of complaints about this very scheme. While this kind of scheme is not new, the frequency of these calls has increased dramatically over the past few weeks.
Why now? Easy: the government shutdown.
Normally, if you are concerned about the legitimacy of a call, the IRS advises you to contact the IRS at 1.800.829.1040 to verify whether the call is legitimate. Due to the shutdown the IRS is not answering the phone. That gives scammers increased opportunity to pressure taxpayers without fear of getting caught – at least immediately.
The calls have a few traits in common. Most seem to be from area code 530 but have the feel of a VOIP call – and may sound like a call center. Most of the callers have heavy accents. The name “Kevin Peterson” has been used quite often but other names have included “John Miller” and “Chris Brown.
The scammers are asking taxpayers to confirm personal information including name, Social Security number and address. In some cases, they are asking for copies of forms W-2 and forms 1099 to “verify” income and brokerage accounts. Depending on how forthcoming taxpayers have been, some have been asked for bank account information (allegedly to debit payments) and credit card information. When taxpayers refuse, the phone calls persist and threats intensify. In some instances, taxpayers have been threatened with visits from the sheriff, jail time and bank levies.
Recently, taxpayers in New Jersey, Missouri and California have been scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in these schemes. Taxpayers have been pressed into divulging bank information and loading money onto Green Dot MoneyPak cards to pay off tax liabilities. In some versions, callers appear to have targeted immigrants, threatening to contact immigration officials if the “taxes” are not paid.
If you receive a phone call allegedly from IRS and you believe it to be a scam, don’t give out any personal information. While a legitimate phone call from IRS might ask you to verify some information, the IRS will never ask you for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.
The best thing to do is simply take a message – ask for a call back number and employee badge number – and then contact the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. Again, I realize that we’re in a government shutdown right now. If you need to contact IRS, you can hang tight until the lights are back on. Even if you do owe money and it is a legitimate call (though the odds are slim), the IRS has indicated that they are not issuing liens or levies while the government is shut down.
If you’ve been threatened with physical harm, you should also contact the police.