The phone rings.
“My name is Peter Samuels and I’m an agent with the Internal Revenue Service.”
Oh, my. Trouble. There are few calls that will strike fear in the hearts of consumers quite like that.
The caller continues:
“My badge number is 36482. We’re calling today because our records show you owe $5,600 in back taxes, penalties and interest, and if you don’t pay immediately, the authorities will come to your home and place you under arrest.”
According to the IRS, it’s a scam.
These callers may demand money. Others may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information, the IRS said.
The con artists can sound convincing. They manipulate caller IDs so it seems that the call is actually coming from the IRS, and they often have personal information about you.
“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” said IRS spokesman Mark Green.
The agency issued a scam alert earlier this month because, it seems, bogus calls are on the rise.
Jim Lawrence, a certified public accountant with Traphagen Financial Group in Oradell, said he’s had four clients who have received such calls in recent months.
One client called Lawrence after someone claiming to represent the IRS phoned and demanded money.
“They said that he owed taxes and if he didn’t pay, they were going to come and put his wife in jail,” Lawrence said. “I told him the IRS would never, never, never contact you first by phone or even email. They will always contact you by mail.”
Lawrence’s client signed a power of attorney to give the CPA the authority to speak on his behalf to the real IRS. Lawrence confirmed with the agency that the client didn’t have an outstanding tax obligation.
Gail Rosen, a Martinsville-based CPA, said she’s received four similar calls from concerned clients in recent months, one just earlier this week.
She said the client, who she described as an intelligent and successful businessman, was in a panic because he just received a call from the IRS saying he owed more than $7,000 in back taxes. The client was told he had to pay within the hour using a pre-paid debit card or a warrant would be issued for his arrest.
“I told him it was definitely a scam. The IRS will never call you. It will always send something in writing,” she said. “If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone.”
Even IRS employees have been targeted by these scammers, said Green, the IRS spokesman.
One of his colleagues received this grammatically incorrect voicemail, which said:
“This message is intended for [name]. The very second you receive this message I need you to retain attorney or return the call. The issue at hand is extremely time sensitive. My is Alex Marshall from internal revenue service department. The hotline to my division is 585-444-6507. I repeat it’s 585-444-6507. Don’t try to disregard this message and do return the call as soon as possible before any legal allegations take place….”
If you plug the phone number left on that message into a search engine, you’ll find hundreds of similar scam reports.
THE RED FLAGS
You might think you’re too smart to fall for an IRS scam, but it’s not a matter of being smart. Even the brightest bulb, if you’re under stress or distracted, could be tricked by a persuasive or bullying caller.
These thieves are crafty, scamwatchers say, and they change their methods as fast as they steal consumer money. Maybe the fake callers with foreign accents are easier to root out and maybe others went to a great acting school. Some, indeed, sound quite convincing, and if they have a nugget of personal information about you, it’s not too far a stretch to make you think they’re the real thing.
The IRS wants taxpayers to recognize what it calls tell-tale signs of a scam. These are actions the IRS would never take, but a huckster may:
• Call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice.
• 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 from the IRS and asking for money, be suspicious.
If you know you owe taxes or think you might, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. Reps can help you with a payment plan. If you don’t think you owe anything, you can still call that number to double-check with the source.
If you receive a call or email from someone you think is a scammer, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS asks that you add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
BE PROACTIVE IN PROTECTION
The IRS wants you to know it will not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues.
Rosen, the CPA, said if you get word from the IRS — whether it’s a scam attempt or the real thing — there’s no hurry.
“There should be no urgency and if you’re not sure, then you should call the IRS or your accountant,” she said. “Take a breath first.”
Lawrence says from what he’s seen, an even bigger scam problem for the IRS and for taxpayers is identity theft.
“This is going on now all over the place,” he said. “Our biggest concern is that someone will get your Social Security number and they file fake tax returns and get refunds. Then when you go to file your taxes, the IRS tells you that you already have filed.”
This happened to four or five of his clients, he said.
“No one has been on the hook for the money but it’s a long process,” he said. “And trust me. It’s not a fun process.”
He recommends you be careful with your private information and be sure to check your credit reports regularly.
You can get a free copy of your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once a year via annualcreditreport.com.
Have you been Bamboozled? Contact Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com