It’s tax season, and many taxpayers seem to be getting intimidating phone calls from people claiming to be from the Treasury Department (read IRS), threatening legal action or worse if you don’t pay up (and immediately, and preferably via PayPal, debit card, or cash). My daughter got one of those calls today, except it landed on my phone number, not hers:
“She no longer lives here. Can I help you?” I replied nicely to the man with the very thick South Asian accent. My scam-alert klaxon horns were already going “ding, ding, ding” in my head.
“My name is David Cooper and I am calling from the Treasury Department’s Legal Enforcement. I need to speak to her. We are about to start a legal action against her, and she must return my phone call within the next 45 minutes.” (I admit, I cleaned up his grammar a bit for this article.)
I continued calmly, “Are you calling from Washington, D.C.? The federal government?”
“Yes. But we are located in El Centro, California.”
I asked him to verify his name and the agency from which he was phoning. Getting more and more agitated, “David Cooper” repeated his name, and warned that if she didn’t call him back in the next few minutes, she would be in “very big trouble.”
Although I was pretty sure this guy was completely illegitimate, part of me wanted to make absolutely certain that he was not genuinely phoning from the IRS. After all, what if my daughter had, indeed, run into an issue with the IRS (highly unlikely, but you never know).
On the other hand, I am a phone scam veteran, and can smell one a mile away (or thousands of miles away via mobile phone) having received scam calls from numerous heavily accented people calling from “Microsoft Technical Department,” or “Windows Support” insisting that my computer has many deadly viruses. (Of course, this despite the fact that I’ve been a dedicated Mac user for years.) These phone scam guys can get intimidating and nasty (and, the last time I got a call, a couple of weeks ago, the caller–and his supervisor–got downright obscene!) I’ve reported numbers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and they keep coming!
Now, admittedly, I’d never received and “official” sounding call, the sort that sort of makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and makes you wonder if you’d accidentally forgotten to do something you were supposed to do, and now you had to pay the piper (or the government).
But, my phishing antennae are hypersensitive when I get any call that sounds like it’s coming from an offshore call center. And, on the off chance that he was legit, I Googled “Treasury Department” at the address he gave me, and indeed, the address is, in fact, the El Centro regional IRS office for that part of California. Hmm.
Next I Googled the phone number from which “David Cooper” (I keep using those quote marks because I highly doubt this man’s name is really David Cooper) phoned, and the results were illuminating. Equal parts relieved (for my daughter) and furious at the gall of these relentless scammers, I immediately went to the Treasury Department’s site and read about the enormous phone scam that’s been in progress for nearly two years. Preying on the elderly (which my daughter is not) and the not-necessarily-well-informed (and people scared that they may have underpaid their taxes), these thieves have bilked thousands of people for billions of dollars.
Recently, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) testified before Congress that the IRS imposter scam has become “the largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of our agency.”
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee has said that this scam “looks to me like an emerging type of organized crime.” These criminals, con artists all, may have quite detailed information about you, enough to sound pretty convincing, according to the IRS.
So, what should you do if you get such a call? The IRS suggests the following:
- If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
- 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.
In any event, do not, under any circumstances, disclose anything about yourself. Do not verify any information they might say they have about you. Before you do anything at all, check them out. And most of all, do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Report them and then ignore them. Full stop. Happy Tax Season, everyone![amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00O2U93D4,B00JG02ZEY,B00Q7HA230,0756743702]