One of the most prevalent -- and apparently effective -- phone scams is when the caller purports to represent the Internal Revenue Service and threatens you to pay them "owed taxes" or face arrest for fraud. Nearly 6,400 victims have collectively paid more than $36.5 million to scammers posing as IRS agents since October 2013. And that's just a drop in the bucket. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has taken reports of about 1.2 million calls made to taxpayers demanding that they send cash to resolve outstanding tax liabilities, reports the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
The good news is that the TIGTA just announced the arrests of five people in Florida for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud that defrauded more than 1,500 victims out of almost $2 million.
And who were most of their targets? The elderly, that's who. Florida is home to many retirees, although scam callers have hit all 50 states. Older people are frequently concerned that their memories are slipping and scammers prey on this knowledge. According to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, two of those arrested were identified as a direct result of information provided by a fraud investigator with the Aging Committee’s Hotline. Those arrests led to the remaining three.
“Putting a stop to aggressive and ruthless scams such as the IRS impersonation scam is among my highest priorities as Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee,” she said.
As part of the typical IRS impersonation scheme, calls are often made using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology -- an inexpensive and easy way to mask the caller's identity. This tricks your Caller ID into thinking the call actually originated with the IRS or another agency. The scammers, often in very harsh and menacing tones, claim additional tax is owed to the IRS and demand immediate payment over the phone by cash, wire or services like MoneyGram and Walmart-2-Walmart.
In a more recent variation of the scam, the scammers demanded payment in iTunes gift cards. iTunes gift cards can be used to make purchases on the App Store, iTunes Store, Mac App Store or to buy Apple Music memberships. As outlandish as it may seem, requests for payment by iTune gift cards worked. The TIGTA said almost 330 people paid out more than $1.4 million to scammers via iTunes gift cards.
For the record, the IRS will never call you. Just hang up and don't give the scammer any personal information. You can call the IRS back at 1(800) 829-1040 to see if they really want you. And scam calls should be reported to 1(800) 366-4484. There is also a form to report scams on the IRS website.