Monday, March 23, 2015

IRS phone scammer trolling for victims

We've gotten this call twice now at home in the past week or so. The message is delivered by a woman with no discernible accent:
Final notice from IRS, Internal Revenue Services.

The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing lawsuit against you. To get more information about this case file, please call immediately on our department number (360) 663-4445. I repeat, (360) 663-4445.* Thank you.
I laughed it off the first time I heard it. The reason of this call? IRS is filing lawsuit against you? Even without an accent, I could not help but visualize Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle when I played the message back. But my wife got to the answering machine first the second time the call came in and she was not initially inclined to laugh off the grammar.

"It's a scam," I said, attempting to reassure her.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

Yes, I'm sure, and the IRS is also sure. I spoke this morning with Joe Muñoz in the Chicago office of IRS media relations, and he directed me to this statement from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen: "If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you don't pay immediately, it's a scam artist calling. The first IRS contact with taxpayers is usually through the mail. Taxpayers have rights, and this is not how we do business."

The IRS says it will never do any of the following:
  • 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 someone calls and says they are from the IRS and yet does one or more of these things, it's a scam. The IRS asks that anyone getting such a call should contact the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration toll-free at (800) 366-4484. There's even an online form that persons contacted by a scammer can complete. The IRS also recommends that persons receiving calls of this kind also make a report to the FTC.

Granted, regular FWIW readers are among the least likely persons to fall victims to this sort of scam -- but many of us have elderly relatives or clients who may be more vulnerable. For their sake, be aware.

* For what it's worth, Area Code 360 is the area code for western Washington State outside Seattle. Sounds like someone doesn't quite know the difference between Washington State and Washington, D.C. But you may be assured that, were you gullible enough to return that call, someone on the other end would be savvy enough to try and coax credit card or bank account information from you.

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