HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane has issued a warning to consumers about new variations of a scam in which con artists pose as officials with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as they attempt to defraud taxpayers.
The Office of Attorney General has continued to receive reports from Pennsylvanians concerning this new variety of scam. The office has learned that criminals are using increasingly sophisticated technology to target unsuspecting consumers.
These “imposter” scams come through telephones and e-mails. Those responsible for the scam allege the person owes money to the IRS. Here are some variations of the scam that consumers should be cautious of:
- Calls in which the caller tries to convince people they owe the IRS back taxes and pressures them to buy reloadable pre-paid debit cards to transfer the funds to pay what they owe.
- Robocalls with automated messages telling the consumer they owe back taxes that will result in imminent legal action and instructing the consumer to touch a number or call a number to receive directions on how to pay their taxes.
- E-mail messages containing what appear to be legitimate IRS forms, directing consumers to contact the “agency” through a link in the e-mail and provide bank account or credit card information to pay for the back taxes.
These scam artists use software to mask information to show where the e-mails are coming from (this is called metadata in technological terms). They also use a phone technology known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) to thwart Caller ID. Many of the scammers are based outside the country. With VOIP technology, the scammers can fake that their calls are originating locally or from Washington, D.C.
Kane warned consumers to be alert for these invasive and troubling calls. She reports that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has taken the lead on investigating these predatory IRS impersonation scams. TIGTA advises it has received 10,000 complaints about these scams, with losses to consumers of more than $20 million. The average loss to individual consumers ranges from $2,500 to $5,000.
Kane cautions that these con artists may seem legitimate by referencing a consumer’s personal information that is not publicly available. Sometimes this information may have been stolen from companies which suffered data breaches. This information may include:
- The last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
- Information about the consumer’s family members.
- “Spoofing” the IRS’s telephone number on the Caller ID.
- Sending bogus e-mails that appear to be coming from the IRS.
- Calling back and impersonating the local police or department of motor vehicles, again “spoofing” the caller ID to appear legitimate.
The caller may capitalize on the false impression caused by these things to pressure consumers to take action. Many victims have reported that these scam callers have been particularly aggressive and persistent, scaring them about imminent arrest or other dire consequences.
Kane reminds consumers that they should remain calm and verify their tax status directly with the IRS by calling 1-800-829-1040.
You should also report these IRS scam calls or emails to the TIGTA Web site at the following link.
Reports of this type of criminal activity should also be reported to local law enforcement. Police then have the information to warn local residents to be on the lookout for these scams.
Kane encourages Pennsylvanians to remember that the IRS always sends written notification of any tax due by mail and never asks for a credit card, debit card or prepaid card over the phone.
According to the IRS, the agency will never:
- Call taxpayers about taxes they owe without first sending an official notice by mail.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount allegedly owed.
- Require taxpayers 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.
Kane said consumers can take the following steps to avoid becoming a victim of this or other phone scams:
- Never give out sensitive personal or financial information over the phone, especially if you receive an unsolicited telephone call from a stranger.
- Never wire money or purchase green dot-type prepaid cash or debit cards in response to a telephone appeal, whether it is from a stranger or someone who claims to know you or an organization you may be familiar with.
- Never let emotion or fear overcome your common sense. If you get a call from someone claiming to be a government agency or law enforcement, slow down and verify everything. Do not be pressured to take action. You can always hang up and call the agency directly to verify.
For more information or to report any scam, Kane encourages Commonwealth residents to contact her Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555.