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Better Business Bureau warns of IRS agent scam in Missouri, Illinois


From the Better Business Bureau

A man from South St. Louis said he is devastated and humiliated after losing nearly $2,000 in an Internal Revenue Service agent impersonation scam, Better Business Bureau warns.

The man, legally blind and dependent on disability payments for his only income, said the scheme played out over a period of three hours as callers posing as IRS agents and a Missouri law enforcement official threatened to arrest him unless he settled a debt for back taxes.

“I was shaking like a leaf,” the man said. “All I could see was my roommate being put out on the street and my dog ending up in a shelter.”

The man is among the most recent victims of what U.S. Treasury official J. Russell George recently described as “the largest scam of its kind we have ever seen.” George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, said his office has received reports of some 290,000 consumer contacts since October 2013. He said thieves posing as IRS agents have stolen more than $14 million from nearly 3,000 people.

“The callers are aggressive. They are relentless, and they are ruthless,” George said.

St. Louis BBB has received more than 100 consumer reports of IRS scams this summer, which is believed to be a fraction of the actual number of people contacted. Complaints have come from St. Louis, Ladue, Cape Girardeau, Harrisburg, Washington and West Plains in Missouri and from Mount Vernon, Ill. A woman from Bonne Terre, Mo., reported in May that she lost $2,800 in a similar scheme.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said educating the public about the scam may be the best way to prevent it. “Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your neighbors,” she said. “Knowledge is power.”

The St. Louis victim said the nightmare began two weeks ago, shortly after he awoke. The caller identified herself as a representative of the IRS. She said she was calling from New York and demanded immediate payment of $3,000 for back taxes she claimed he owed from 2012. If he didn’t make the payment, she warned, police would come to his apartment to arrest him.

“I told them I was blind and I didn’t have that kind of money,” he said. “But it didn’t matter.”

The victim said he phoned a neighbor and asked her to drive him to his bank to withdraw $1,500. He said she then drove him to an area quick shop and pharmacy, loaded the cash onto four reloadable debit cards and gave the cards’ Personal Identification Numbers to the caller.

The victim said the caller and another man posting as an agent stayed on his friend’s cell phone with him the entire time, instructing him on exactly what type cards to buy and threatening him with arrest if he told anyone why he was purchasing the cards.

“They said: ‘We can track you down anywhere,'” he said.

As soon as he returned home, a second caller, claiming to be an investigator with the state of Missouri, phoned demanding more money. He said he did not have any more money.

“They cleaned me out,” he said.

The victim said he barely slept that night, believing he would be going to jail. The next day he phoned a friend, crying, and told her of the ordeal. She told him he had been scammed.

“I got very angry and very depressed,” he said.

He said he reported the fraud to St. Louis police, the Federal Trade Commission and BBB. Local law enforcement authorities said there was nothing they could do to help recover his money.

Treasury officials say scammers often use common names and fake IRS badge numbers. They may know the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number and can make caller identification information appear as if the IRS is calling. They also may send out bogus emails or pose as local law enforcement authorities to support their scheme.

BBB offers the following tips to determine the validity of an IRS agent call:

– If you think you may owe federal taxes, hang up and call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to ask about the call.
Don’t fall for related scams (such as lottery sweepstakes and debt relief) from people claiming to be IRS or law enforcement agents.
– The IRS will never request payment through a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer.
– The IRS will never threaten you with jail time or deportation.
– The IRS will not directly contact a taxpayer by phone until it has first sent a notice by mail.


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