Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling


senior man answering a scam phone call

Think you are too smart to fall for phone scams? Not so fast. In 2018, American consumers lost more than $488 million to a type of fraud that the Federal Trade Commission (FRC) calls “imposter scams.”

One particularly common and effective type of imposter scam is the fraudster posing as a government official. In fact, the FTC says that fake government calls now top the list of imposter scams. We’ve frequently posted about IRS tax season scams. In the Washington Post, Michelle Singletary warns that the latest hoax calls  tell you that your Social Security number is being suspended. There re several variations to the scam, often elaborate stories about how your Social Security number turned up in crimes.  The end goal is to either get you to reveal your number or to pay a fee to “reinstate it.” Some scenarios even threaten arrest. She quotes an FTC official:

“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Check out the tips and advice she offers for how to spot and avoid this scam. And here’s an FTC infographic for a typical telephone IRS scam – it’s a pattern that is common for SS# and other governmental scams, too.

IRS phone scam infographic

Scam alert: The IRS won’t phone you to make threats


phone-scammer

Police are warning residents in West Springfield about phone scammers pretending to be IRS agents. Actually, this scam is happening throughout the country – and it’s likely to continue because the IRS says that thieves have conned more than $5 million from victims already.

Here’s how it works: You get a call from an alleged agent who tells you that you owe back taxes. These are pretty sophisticated scammers – they may spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling. They may even know the last 4 digits of your Social Security number. The caller threatens to jail you, send police, deport you, seize property or freeze accounts if you don’t take immediate action. The callers are said to be very aggressive and threatening and make repeat calls. After they hang up, they may have other people call you to pretend they are local police or other officials who “corroborate” the scam.

Another variation is to tell you they owe you money and they need details of your bank account to send it to you. There’s always a “you need to act immediately” aspect to the scam.

One North Carolina couple describes how the scam that bilked them out of $16,000 went: they withdrew money from the bank and bought a prepaid credit card and read the number to the fake agent over the phone.

Who are the most susceptible victims? The elderly. Immigrants worried about deportation. People who actually do owe money and are worried about it. But anyone, really. Most of us think we are too smart to be scammed but even smart people can be fooled by master criminals who know how to expertly prey on our trust, our fears or our greed.

If you have elderly parents or neighbors, you may want to alert them to this scam!

Here’s what the IRS says:
The IRS has issued repeated warnings but have issued another recent phone scam warning due to the volume of the calls happening around the country.

There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.