As tax day approaches, beware of phone fraudsters

It’s not every day that Pennsylvania State Police call to say they have a warrant for your arrest. But that’s exactly what happened to me at the end of March.

At least that’s what the appellant said was going on.

The voice on the other end gave information about me – my full name, my email address, where I went to college, when I graduated – and told me. said I owed the IRS over $ 7,000 for not paying taxes on a college scholarship.

When I sounded in disbelief he told me to look up the number that was on my caller ID as verification. It was actually the Pennsylvania State Police number.

Then he told me that I can make it all go away by buying Apple gift cards and reading the gift card number to him over the phone. He tried to convince me that the Apple Store and my local grocery chain were “government certified locations” and that the gift cards from those locations were the equivalent of government bonds.

It was then that I realized it was a scam.

Not everyone has the chance to understand right away. The IRS estimates that over the past five years, more than $ 65 million has been lost to tax evaders. This is most common during peak tax season in March and April.

Michelle Albitz from Barto, Pa., Was scammed last year. She was at work when she got the call.

“He said it was the IRS, I owed the money and if I didn’t call back that number the local authorities would be after me,” says Albitz.

The crooks threatened to call the police if Albitz hung up, so she stayed on the phone with them for hours. She took a credit card cash advance of over $ 10,000, bought as many gift cards as she could and read the fraudsters’ card numbers over the phone. She could not repay the debt.

“Right now, if I wanted to get a loan, I can’t, because my credit isn’t that good right now,” she says, crying.

Albitz is one of more than 13,000 people in the United States who have fallen into a tax scam since 2013, according to the Inspector General of the Treasury for the Tax Administration. California has the highest death toll and total dollars lost, followed closely by New York and Texas.

Officials say seniors, immigrants and young adults who don’t have much experience with the tax system are most vulnerable to these scams.

“A lot of people are scared of the IRS, and so when you hear these words when someone calls, I think it intimidates a lot of people upon receiving the phone call,” says Ed Wirth, a special agent on the crime investigations division of the IRS.

Wirth says phone scams can be detected because the calls occur without warning and the request is presented as urgent. Often the crooks threaten to be arrested or deported. Some say that in order to fix the problem, they need personal information, like your bank account number or your social security number. But more often than not, like in my case and Michelle Albitz’s, they just ask for money.

Scammers can make any phone number appear on your caller ID, which is how they make it look like they are calling me from the state police. They may even give the impression that they are calling from a real IRS office. This can make these scams even more difficult to identify.

Wirth says people need to remember a simple rule:

“If you haven’t received any communication from us in the US Post, we won’t call you,” he said.

He urges people not to let fear of the taxman make them the next victim of a tax scam.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Very good. The IRS estimates that taxpayers have lost over $ 65 million to tax-related phone scams. And, as you might expect, these scams are more common during tax season. Journalist Paige Pfleger caught a glimpse of the scams when her phone rang.

PAIGE PFLEGER, BYLINE: The voice on the other end of the phone said he was calling from the Pennsylvania State Police. He gave some information about me – my full name, my email address, where I went to college, when I graduated and told me the IRS had issued a warrant stop against me for not paying taxes on my university scholarship. I told him it all sounded fishy, ​​and that was his response.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Can you see my phone number, ma’am, appearing on your cell phone right now?

PFLEGER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go type the whole number online and see which office and service you are talking to.

PFLEGER: I mean, I see that’s the Pennsylvania State Police number.

He then told me that I can make it all go away by buying Apple Gift Cards. It was then that I realized it was a scam. But not everyone is so lucky.

MICHELLE ALBITZ: If I wanted to get a loan, I can’t because my credit right now is not very good.

PFLEGER: This is Michelle Albitz from Barto, PA. She got a credit card cash advance of over $ 10,000 last year when she was scammed, and she hasn’t been able to repay all of that money. She received the call while she was at work.

ALBITZ: And he said it was the IRS, that I owed the money, and if I didn’t call back that number, the local authorities would be after me.

PFLEGER: Albitz is one of more than 13,000 people in the United States who have fallen into a tax scam trap in the past five years, according to the Inspector General of the Treasury for the Tax Administration. California has the most casualties and lost dollars, with New York and Texas following close behind.

ED WIRTH: A lot of people are afraid of the IRS. And so, when you hear those words when someone calls, I think it intimidates a lot of people upon receiving the phone call.

PFLEGER: This is Ed Wirth, a special agent in the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. He says phone scams can be spotted because they come out of nowhere, and the request will seem really urgent, like with my scammer.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So, do you want to fix the problem? It would be right away, right away.

PFLEGER: Often they threaten legal action like arrest or deportation. And they say that to make the problem go away, they need personal information or money. My scammer was trying to convince me that a gift card from an Apple store or a chain of grocery stores was considered a government obligation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you want to fix the problem, ma’am, you have to go to the government authorized store at the government approved location. And you have to buy a federal bond for the amount of $ 7,980.

PFLEGER: Scammers can make any number appear on your caller ID, this is how they make it look like they are calling me from the state police number and how they can even give the impression that they are calling from the real IRS number. This can make these scams confusing. But the IRS’s Ed Wirth says people just need to remember one simple rule.

WIRTH: If you haven’t received any communication from us by US Post, we won’t call you.

PFLEGER: He urges people not to let fear of the taxman make you the next victim of a tax scam. For NPR News, I’m Paige Pfleger. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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