A phone message from a New York area code about "your tax filings" ominously indicated that if the Texas recipient didn’t call back soon, jail time and legal action loomed.
By all indications, though, the message fielded April 10, 2018 by an Austin resident from a number with the 607 area code was a scam. Significantly, agencies say, anyone getting such a call should hang up and consider filing a complaint with an independent arm of the U.S. Treasury.
We transcribed the warning, which was left as a voice mail on a cell phone with a number starting with the 512 area code. In the message, an automated voice said:
"We have received a notification regarding your tax filings from the headquarters which will get expired in next 24 working hours. And once it gets expired after that, you will be taken into custody by the local cops as there are more serious allegations pressed on your name at this moment. We would request you to get back to us so that we can discuss about this case before taking any legal action against you."
Federal agency battles criminal callers
Next, we hunted for governmental guidance about such calls.
In a March 2016 press release, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration stressed that if the IRS wants a taxpayer’s attention, the first contact is generally through the U.S. mail. Also, the IRS "will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order or a wire transfer. The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number or your bank information over the phone," TIGTA said.
At the time, TIGTA said it had fielded reports of some 5,500 victims collectively paying about $29 million "as a result of the scam in which criminals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards, money orders or wire transfers from their banks."
In December 2017, TIGTA issued a fresh release stating that from October 2013 through mid-November 2017, more than 2.1 million taxpayers reported receiving phone contacts from scammers--with over 12,400 victims collectively reporting payments of more than $61.6 million due to the scam.
The TIGTA inspector general, J. Russell George, said in the release that such scammers "are only succeeding with a handful of victims. On average, between 30 and 40 new victims each week report that they paid the impersonators money. This is a vast improvement over the hundreds of new victims who were reporting last year that they paid the impersonators money."
When we emailed our transcript of the April 2018 phone message to TIGTA, spokeswoman Karen Kraushaar replied by email: "TIGTA has made many arrests in connection with this scam and has numerous investigations underway. To date, as a result of our efforts, a total of 111 individuals have been charged in federal court for their involvement in IRS impersonation scam activity. Even so, we are still receiving reports that between 4,000 and 10,000 taxpayers are receiving calls each week, so our work is ongoing."
State and local agencies comment
We also shared our transcript of the phone message with the Austin Police Department and the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which has a consumer protection function.
Lisa Cortinas of the APD emailed us a 2017 APD press release describing a scam in which callers purported to represent the IRS with the incoming phone number showing up as an APD number. "These scammers are not legitimate," the release said.
Kayleigh Lovvorn of the attorney general’s office told us by email: "This is a very common ‘IRS scam’ that usually increases at tax time across the entire country." Lovvorn pointed out a 2017 Paxton press release stating: "Scam artists tell consumers that they owe back taxes and threaten to have them arrested if they don’t provide immediate payment."
Advice: Hang up
The TIGTA inspector general said in the agency’s 2016 release: "If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS or in a new twist, the Treasury Department, and uses the threat of legal action if you do not pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling, and your cue to hang up.
"Again," George said then, "do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone." The APD and Paxton releases each had the same advice.
An automated phone message fielded in Austin said that unless the recipient called back about "your tax filings," you "will be taken into custody by the local cops as there are more serious allegations pressed on your name."
Relevant federal, state and local agencies say there’s no legitimacy to such calls, which should be reported to authorities.
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Press releases, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, "J. Russell George Urges Taxpayers to Remain Vigilant Against Scammers," March 16, 2016; "J.Russell George Urges Taxpayers to Remain on 'High Alert' to Prevent More Losses to IRS Impersonators," Dec. 28, 2017
Press release, "APD Warns About Callers Using APD Caller ID To Scam for Cash," Austin Police Department, July 20, 2017 (received by email from Lisa Cortinas, senior public information specialist, APD, April 11, 2018)
Email, Karen Kraushaar, director of communications, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, April 11, 2018
Email (excerpted), Kayleigh Lovvorn, media relations specialist, Communication Division, Office of the Attorney General of Texas, April 11, 2018
Press release, "AG Paxton: Beware of Callers Posing as the IRS in Tax Scam," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, March 21, 2017 (web link received by email from Kayleigh Lovvorn, April 11, 2018
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