I hope this alerts innocent taxpayers, immigrants and senior citizens who may be vulnerable to this scam so these criminals do not harm them. Beware. Share with others and don't become a victim.
July 19, 2014
It’s true. We often don’t become advocates of an issue until it directly affects us. On Friday, July 18th, I was the target of a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers (and especially recent immigrants) across the United States. I share my story in hopes to educate and help others protect themselves from being victimized.
Play Video: Part 1: IRS Phone Scam Voicemail Message left on my home phone
Video: Phone Scam voicemail message: “Hi, this message is for Erika. This is Officer Jordan McCoy calling you from the Criminal Investigation of Internal Revenue Services. The moment you get this message, you need to reach me back on 202-241-1747. There is a notice issued on your name and there are serious allegations pressed against your name by Criminal Investigations Department of Internal Revenue Services. As it is a matter of urgency, I’m looking forward to speak to you. Thank you. You have a great day.”
Play Video: Part 2: Full Conversation: IRS Phone Scam Alert
Caller ID on my home phone indicated that the call was from a Washington, D.C. phone number, but I also noticed a distinct Indian accent that was not characteristic of a person named Jordan McCoy or later, in a follow-up call, Brian Newman.
I have now learned that in a new twist on an old scam, criminals are impersonating IRS agents, law firms, judges, and court officials. They make threatening phone calls and send out scary letters about phantom debts to try to convince people to send them money. The calls are made with spoofed caller identification software that makes it appear the call is originating from the IRS.
In my experience, the callers, claiming to be from the IRS, told me that due to miscalculations in previous tax filings from 2008-2012, I owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.
When you don't cooperate, the scammers then threaten with arrest, seizing of your passport, deportation, a hold on all bank accounts, garnishing of wages, a lien on your home and up to 5 years prison term. As a scare tactic, the caller may also become hostile and insulting.
I have now learned that this phone scam has hit thousands of victims in every state. In my case, I was told the case was being turned over to the county sheriff’s office for arrest, unless I complied. They also said they attempted to contact me by mail on at least two previous occasions with no response.
I’ve learned that to lend the scam credibility, some criminals often know the last four digits of your Social Security number. In other cases, victims will get follow-up calls that appear to be from their state motor vehicle agency (if a driver's license was threatened) or the police. The scammers also send follow-up emails that mimic the IRS insignia and even appear to be signed by real IRS officials.
I hope this alerts innocent taxpayers and immigrants who may be vulnerable to this scam so these criminals do not harm them. Do not become a victim.
How to spot the scam
The IRS follows certain procedures that are designed to protect your rights. Julianne Fisher Breitbeil with IRS media relations says, "We are not going to initiate contact with somebody via phone, email or any social media outlet and ask for personal or financial information."
The IRS may call in certain situations, such as when the audit process has started and they want to schedule an appointment.
"But we are not going to call and say we need money," Breitbeil explained. "The scammers ask for immediate payment over the phone. We are never going to do that—never."
If you get a call and you're not quite sure what to do, hang up and call the IRS at (800) 829-1040.
If you've fallen for the scam, file a complaint. The FTC has more information on its website about how this scam works and how to report it.
Characteristics of this scam include:
• Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
• Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.
• Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
• Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
• Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.
So, what should you do if you get one of these phone calls or emails?
No matter how convincing a letter or phone call seems, check it out. Look up the real number for the government agency, office, or employee (yes, even judges) and get the real story. It’s likely to be a scam.
"If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don't pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here's what to do:
* If you owe federal taxes, or think you may owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
* If you don't owe taxes, call and report the incident to the Treasury inspector general of tax administration at 1-800-366-4484.
* You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.
* If you get an email that's purportedly from the IRS, do not open any attachments or click on any links in the email. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taxpayers should also be aware of other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes winner) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS. You can read more about identified tax scams at the IRS website, www.irs.gov.