Aggressive phone calls from scammers posing as IRS agents threatening court action against victims if they don’t send payments was found to be the most common telephone scam in a recent study.
It’s a simple scam, a telephone call from someone claiming to be with the government and demanding payment for past-due taxes, or in some cases offering large refunds. The obvious giveaway, though, is they require personal information be given over the phone.
A recent survey conducted by CPR Call Blocker, a company that sells devices that block unwanted calls, determined the IRS scam during tax season is No. 1 in a list of the Top 5 telephone scams to which Americans fall victim.
The study also found that 11 percent of U.S. adults have been a victim of a telephone scam. Of those who have been scammed, 20 percent said they had lost between $500 and $10,000 as a result.
1. IRS tax season scam
More than one in three people surveyed claimed to have been a subject of an IRS phone scam. The IRS called the tax scam the “headliner of its ‘dirty dozen’” list of tax scams in 2016.
“This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam,” according to an IRS news release.
The problem is just as common in Ottawa County.
“We have taken hundreds of reports this tax season from victims who have received calls from people posing as agents and saying, ‘You owe a balance and a warrant will be issued for your arrest if you don’t provide debit card numbers or bank account numbers,” said Capt. Mark Bennett, with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.
He said the department has taken hundreds of other reports of victims claiming they attempted to file their taxes through an online service to find out someone else had already filed their return.
Bennett said the best defense against this is to simply hang up. Although the more advanced scammers can mask the phone call to appear as if it is coming from a legitimate IRS phone number, the IRS does not contact people over the phone to collect taxes.
He said the IRS will send notified mail to anyone it is trying to reach regarding unpaid taxes.
2. Credit/loan scams
The second most common telephone scam comes in the form of offers of new or upgraded credit cards. About one in three people claimed to have been victim to this scam attempt.
This type of scam can vary in technique, and can include any of the previous four scams. The difference is, however, is an automated message that often attempts to get victims to enter bank account or social security information using their dial pad.
“We’ve seen tragic cases of people who have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in these types of scams,” Bennett said. “It’s tragic. People think in good faith they’re taking part in a business transaction and they are just having their life savings ripped from them.”
Bennett said anyone who gets an automated message asking for personal information to simply hang up.
Telephone scams continue to be used by criminals as a way to steal identity, receive payments and establish credit cards in other people’s names.
Bennett said they can be hard to prosecute because several originate from outside the country. The sheriff’s department does work alongside the IRS and other federal agencies in reporting and investigating scams.
More often than not the scams are unsuccessful in baiting their victims, Bennett said. But with the quantity of calls that scammers are able to make because they purchase phone numbers through companies who build databases of customer contacts, even a low success rate can prove lucrative.
He said people who are retired are most often targeted because they are more often home to answer the phone and are more likely to have available funds and assets.