By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
I’m not prone to violence, but I think I’d gladly smack the guy who programs the fake IRS calls I’ve been bombarded with lately.
The latest came, as if in bitter irony, the day the real Internal Revenue Service cashed my quarterly tax payment. Hours later, I got another in a string of robotic calls, adding insult to injury.
“This call is from IRS,” the female-sounding voice intoned. “Internal Revenue Services …”
The mistaken plural on the word ‘Service’ was the first clue to the fiction, but if I needed convincing, the rest of the message (missing words and all) was equally suspicious.
“The reason for this call is to inform that IRS is filing lawsuit against you…”
In about 30 seconds or so, the robot told me to get more information on the case file by calling a designated number. I didn’t call.
Having written for years about scams of various sorts, I know a rat when I smell one, and this call was nothing more than bogus — and a bad bogus to boot. However, I’ve gotten the same call featuring the same robotic voice so often that I’m reminded that scammers never give up. Somebody, somewhere actually falls for this stuff.
Here is what the “real” IRS says about such things:
“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen wrote recently. “Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer surge of phone scams, and watch for clear warning signs as these scammers change tactics.”
The IRS has seen an increase in robo-calls where scammers leave “urgent” callback requests, telling taxpayers to call back to settle their tax bill. The calls generally claim to be the “last warning” before legal action. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten arrest, deportation or revocation of a driver’s license if victims don’t agree to pay. Sometimes, victims are asked to pay bills via their iTunes account or by gift cards.
The truth is, the IRS never uses such tactics. While the agency can legitimately strong-arm you in a lot of ways, it doesn’t do it over the phone. Instead, you’ll be sent an official letter by mail to initiate claims, usually in the form of a bill.
If you get a phone call from someone purporting to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do, per the feds:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration handles scam investigations. Use its “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call (800) 366-4484.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
- If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040.
Unfortunately, this new-wave era of scammers is here to stay, but wisdom as old as my grandma still applies. She once told me to believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. Such skepticism serves well in modern America.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 977-6865.