As tax season shifts into high gear, threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating Internal Revenue Service agents and identity theft scams remain a threat to Southland taxpayers.
The IRS said it has seen a surge of phone schemes as scam artists threaten arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things to trick victims into providing money.
In one such scheme, the caller may say you’re entitled to a huge refund, but you must hand over a certain amount of cash first.
Federal officials said taxpayers should be especially mindful of such con games during any filing season.
“Taxpayers across the nation face a deluge of these aggressive phone scams,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said.
“Don’t be fooled by callers pretending to be from the IRS in an attempt to steal your money,” he said. “We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us.”
The Federal Trade Commission reported last week that California remained in the top 10 on the FTC’s list of states with the highest per-capita identity theft complaints in 2015.
Tax-related identity theft is a top source of those complaints, according to the FTC.
The vulnerability of Southland residents to fraud, particularly identity theft, is exacerbated by the ongoing problem of data breaches.
According to Javelin Strategy Research, two-thirds of identity fraud victims have received a data breach notification in the past 12 months.
As data breaches continue to affect millions of Americans, it is likely that millions more will suffer from this scam, according to the FTC.
“Data breaches regularly expose sensitive personal information about millions of California consumers to cybercrime black markets,” said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League.
“Consumers can and should take steps to mitigate their risk of identity theft, but they can’t prevent it entirely,” he said. “Leaders in Washington need to help make sure that the companies that hold consumers’ data protect it to the greatest extent possible.”
The IRS, meanwhile, detailed some common tax-related schemes, where scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS employees.
A caller may demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill, and con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.
“Urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email are also common.
Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. The caller may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money, according to the IRS.
Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling, and use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may also use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.
Here are five things scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.
The IRS will never:
• call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill
• 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, you should hang up immediately.