Alaskans targeted by phone callers posing as IRS agents
April 15 is long gone, but that doesn’t mean tax worries are over, thanks to fraudulent phone callers posing as IRS agents.
Better Business Bureau, the Alaska Medicare Information Office and others are reporting a surge in the calls, in which the caller claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service.
“Reportedly, the tax scammers are pretending to be case workers from the IRS telling people there is a warrant out for their arrest,” Alaska Commission on Aging Executive Director Denise Daniello warns in a May 16 alert. “The scammers are targeting seniors by phone and email.”
Michelle Tabler, Alaska Regional Manager for the Better Business Bureau, says that according to her agency’s Scam Tracker, there were 6,673 IRS-related tax scams reported last year in the U.S. and Canada – these are just the ones reported to the BBB site – with 43 reported in Alaska.
Tabler outlined a number of phony pitches callers use: They’ll say there’s been an audit and you owe money and if you don’t pay the money immediately (wire the money or prepaid card), law enforcement will come to your house and arrest you, revoke your driver’s license, or threaten a lawsuit if you don’t pay.
There are also reports of messages left on voicemail – Tabler herself received this one – saying that you must call the phone number back right away or you will be prosecuted.
Kris Ashley, Senior Tax Specialist in the IRS Anchorage office, says that the scam continues year-round, not just around tax time, and there seems to have been a wave recently in Alaska.
“I’ve gotten them in my own home, my relatives have gotten them,” Ashley said. “All of my friends have gotten at least one the last year. The scammers are very aggressive, they can be very frightening. Some of the stories I’ve heard is that they’ll threaten to come and arrest you right now. In other states, they’ve threatened people with deportation.”
Nila Morgan, a Medicare information counselor at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center, circulated a fact sheet about the scam in May that detailed some of the scammers’ tactics:
• They may claim you have an overdue “tax bill,” which you must pay immediately through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Or they may promise you a big refund in order to get personal information from you.
• They may employ methods like automated “robo” calls, spoofing, or fake caller IDs to trick you into believing they are legitimate IRS agents.
Don’t believe them. Ashley, from the IRS, says that almost without exception, “every contact from the IRS will start with a mailed notice. The first contact is almost never going to be a phone call.”
Also, she notes, “an IRS person who is contacting you is not going to demand payment right this second. They’re not going to demand you get a specific kind of payment media – sometimes (impostors) are telling people to go get prepaid debit cards. A legitimate IRS person is not going to demand that.”
What to do
If you receive a phone call sounding like one of these fraud scenarios, hang up immediately. Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or contact the Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant at http://www.FTC.gov and add the words “IRS telephone scam” to your report.
If you receive a suspicious email, report it to email@example.com.
Since Social Security and Medicare numbers are the same, targets may become victims of medical fraud as well, so call the local Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-800-478-6065.
For more information, visit medicare.alaska.gov.