By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
WASHINGTON — Fake IRS agents have targeted more than 366,000 people with harassing phone calls demanding payments and threatening jail as part of a huge nationwide tax scam.
More than 3,000 people have fallen for the ruse, Timothy Camus, a Treasury deputy inspector general for tax administration, said Thursday. They have been duped out of a total of $ 15.5 million. People in every state have been targeted.
The criminals do not discriminate. They are calling people everywhere, of all income levels and backgrounds.
“The criminals do not discriminate. They are calling people everywhere, of all income levels and backgrounds,” Camus told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing. “The number of complaints we have received about this scam make it the largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of our agency.”
The scam is so widespread that investigators believe there is more than one group of perpetrators, including some overseas.
Camus said even he received a call from one of the scammers at his home on a Saturday. He said he had a stern message for the caller: “Your day will come.”
So far, Camus said, two people in Florida have been arrested. They were accused of being part of a scam that involved people in call centers in India contacting U.S. taxpayers and pretending to be IRS agents.
As part of the scam, fake IRS agents call taxpayers, claim they owe taxes, and demand payment using a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer. Those who refuse are threatened with arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license, Camus said.
The callers might even know the last four digits of the taxpayer’s Social Security number, Camus said.
They request prepaid debit cards because they are harder to trace than bank cards. Prepaid debit cards are different from bank cards because they are not connected to a bank account. Instead, consumers buy the cards at stores, and use them just like a bank card, until the money runs out or they add more.
Real IRS agents usually contact people first by mail, Camus said. And they never demand payment by debit card, credit card or wire transfer.
The inspector general’s office started receiving complaints about the scam in 2013. Immigrants were the primary target early on, the IG’s office said. But the scam has since become more widespread.
Some tips from the IRS to void the scam:
- The IRS will never call you on the phone to demand immediate payment.
- The IRS will never call about taxes owed without first mailing you a notice.
- The IRS will never demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount the agency says you owe.
- The IRS will never require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- The IRS will never ask for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone.
- The IRS will never threaten 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, here’s what the IRS says you should do:
- If you think you might owe back taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, at 800-366-4484, or online at www.tigta.gov.