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Has the IRS Called You? You May Want to Double-Check

By Alicia Young October 07, 2016

These days you can never be too careful about what kind of information you share over the phone. Chances are, you’ve likely received a phone call or two from scammers pretending to be from the IRS demanding immediate payment. These callers like to threaten those who don’t comply with jail time or deportation. Unfortunately, too many people fall victim to this kind of trickery, and end up giving valuable information to thieves. Luckily, dozens of arrests were recently made in a call center in India, hopefully making a dent in the number of scammers plaguing American taxpayers.

The arrests were made following a tip received by the police, and 70 call center workers were arrested for their alleged roles in tax-related scams. The call centers are located outside of Mumbai, India, and more than 750 call center workers were detained in the ongoing investigation.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem. Taxpayers have been plagued by fake IRS calls for years now—I received one the other day and laughed at the caller before hanging up. Unfortunately, these callers have a tendency of preying on older people who get nervous when threats are made and don’t realize that any legitimate IRS person would send tons of notice via mail, rather than asking for information over the phone.

Most people are wising up to the existence of these calls, though, which has forced scammers to get even more creative. This is why police have had such a hard time catching the callers. Most of the callers, especially those who use robocalls, are located outside of the U.S. and usually make the calls using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology because it’s a cheap and easy way of masking the origin of the calls while simultaneously tricking your Caller ID into showing up as the IRS or other government agency.

Scammers have also made it hard to trace their steps by demanding payment in unique ways—cash, wire, money services like MoneyGram and Walmart-2-Walmart, even iTunes gift cards. That last one may seem a little out of place, but it can be used to make purchases on the App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, Mac App Store or to buy Apple Music memberships. And believe it or not, people have actually made payments like this in the hopes of putting off the IRS’ wrath.

Finally, progress is being made in this problem area. In May 2016, the United States Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced the arrest of five people said to be involved in the scams. They were arrested in Florida and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Five people may not seem like a big deal, but they were responsible for almost $2 million in schemes that defrauded more than 1,500 victims.

The U.S. is taking a stand against this kind of fraud, which will hopefully lead to less people being conned out of their money. The FCC has launched a “Robocall Strike Force” which is committed to developing solutions that will prevent, detect, and filter unwanted robocalls. With the help of major companies like AT&T, Microsoft and Comcast monitoring robocalls and telemarketing calls, the success rates of these scammers will hopefully decrease significantly. Some actions the FCC would like to see taken include industry-wide Caller ID verification standards that would allow consumers to block calls from spoofed phone numbers. There should also be a “Do Not Originate” list that would make it more difficult for scammers to pretend to call from government agencies like the IRS.

There’s still a lot of preventative work to be done on this front, but the Robocall Strike Force and the arrests in Florida and India are a good start. The operation in India was massive, with reports indicating that the bogus calls had been made from as many as seven call centers outside of Mumbai for more than a year. That’s $149,835.20 per day that these people were making illegally by threatening American taxpayers.

So always be aware of whom you’re speaking to on the phone. If something sounds even a little bit off, question it—you can always double-check something, but you can’t get your money back if you willingly give it to a stranger without asking questions first.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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