IRS: More than $29 million lost in fraud phone scams

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DENVER -- A top investigator with the Internal Revenue Service called it an epidemic Friday: More than 1 million Americans have reported they have been the target of a phone scam with criminals impersonating IRS agents.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, John Walsh, joined Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Cordale Lamb and IRS Criminal Investigation special agent Stephen Boyd for a news conference Friday afternoon.

Officials said the IRS has seen surge of phone scams.

According to TIGTA, it has received 1,029,601 reports from people who said they received the scam phone call. Of that number, 5,508 were victims who lost a total of $29,100,604.

In Colorado, according to TIGTA, the state is ranked 13th in the number of victims. There have been 111 victims who have lost $632,000.

The scammers will call victims directly, impersonating an IRS agent. They’ll demand money and if the caller won’t pay up, they’ll threaten everything from arrest to indictment and, in some cases, deportation.

Officials said scammers are also known to spoof government phone numbers.

“If you have caller ID, it may appear to have come from a government number,” Walsh said.

In many cases the calls come from overseas, where criminals set up makeshift boiler rooms.

“They’re difficult to investigate and they’re even more difficult to actually bring the perpetrators to justice because they may be located in countries where we don`t have extradition treaties,” Walsh said.

The scammers will ask for immediate payment. They’ll tell victims how to pay – prepaid debit card, wire transfer, cash, etc. And they already might know the victim’s personal information, including name, address and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Walsh said the scammers are not just targeting the elderly.

“Different age ranges fall prey to this,” Walsh said. “College students will sometimes not understand how the tax system works very well because they haven’t filed any returns.”

That’s why investigators said the solution is education. The real IRS will first make contact by letter and it will never demand immediate payment or threaten force.

There was one example of a fraudulent call, and two TIGTA public service announcements (one in English and one in Spanish) that were mentioned during the event:

Sample phone call (open source):

TIGTA PSA (government source):

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4dSU0BElmzA_o7atb929AA?rel=0

According to the Department of Justice, if an individual receives a call they believe to be suspicious, the best thing to do is hang up. The individual can also call 1-800-829-1040 to see if the IRS is attempting to get in contact with them.

If they are fairly certain the call is fake and they have detailed information about the call, or believe they have been victimized by the scam, they can report the call by either calling TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or sending an email to complaints@tigta.treas.gov

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