Federal law enforcement scored a major victory this year against an India-based ring of tax crooks who pretended to be Internal Revenue Service agents in phone calls to U.S. taxpayers.
The last of 24 U.S.-based member of the international tax scam pleaded guilty on Nov. 13. That brought to a successful end the multi-agency effort that helped bring down the IRS impersonation scam that since it began in 2013 has stolen $61.6 million from duped victims.
But, warned the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, these crooked callers are not done.
"This is the largest, most comprehensive investigation that TIGTA has ever conducted, and I am extremely proud of our work," said Tax Inspector General Russell J. George this week in announcing the latest court victory over the fake IRS agent crooks.
However, George also reminded taxpayers to remain on high alert during the coming tax filing season to avoid being conned by these and other criminals.
Scam still going strong 4+ years later: Since TIGTA started tracking the fake IRS telephone scam in October 2013, the oversight agency had, as of mid-November, heard from more than 2.1 million taxpayers in every state in the country who got calls from these scammers.
Not surprisingly, the more densely populated states have the most victims, at least from a dollars-lost standpoint. The top five States with the most losses are:
- California with more than $10 million,
- New York with more than $4 million,
- Texas with more than $4 million,
- Illinois with more than $3 million and (5)
- Florida with more than $2 million.
The tax-related scammers use the IRS as a way to intimidate and scare people into handing over their money and personal and financial information.
In order to avoid threatened arrest, imprisonment, deportation, grand jury indictment, loss of a business or driver's license, or other punishments, the fake IRS agents demand their victims immediately pay tax bills that they don't actually owe.
Of those millions called by the fake IRS agents, more than 12,400 victims reported that they have collectively paid more than $61.6 million dollars to the scammers.
Some success in slowing scammers: But there is good news.
Thanks to law enforcement efforts and education programs alerting taxpayers about the scam, George said that on average, the crooks now are less successful in scamming payments.
Only between 30 and 40 people now fall victim to the telephone tax scammers each week.
"This is a vast improvement over the hundreds of new victims who were reporting last year that they paid the impersonators money," according to the Inspector General.
New scam options in 2018: The bad news, though, is that the persistent telephone tax scam likely will get a boost this coming New Year 2018 thanks to the new tax laws that take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
Scammers already are notorious for revising their illegal efforts to take advantage of the latest developments in the tax world. As victims became wise to the way it worked, the telephone tax scam itself already has evolved over the years.
I expect the confusion and ambiguities created by the rushed way 2018's new tax laws were devised and enacted to offer many new hooks for the crooks to use in their continuing scam calls.
Not that the crooks need the help.
George said TIGTA continues to receive reports of thousands of contacts every month in which individuals fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials make unsolicited calls and robocalls to taxpayers demanding payment.
Hang up if you answered the phone. If you get a robocall message from a purposed IRS official left in your voice mail box, ignore the instructions to return the crook's call.
If you do not owe taxes, fill out the "IRS Impersonation scam" form on TIGTA's website or call the oversight agency toll-free at (800) 366-4484.
Also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.
And if you do owe federal taxes (or think you might) and haven't yet made arrangements to settle that bill, call the IRS directly, again toll-free, at (800) 829-1040 and talk with a real IRS representative who can help you with your payment questions.
You also should talk with a tax professional whose experience is worth his or her fee in helping straighten out your tax noncompliance situation.
Backdoor tax scam hooks: Finally, be alert for other types of scams. Tax criminals also try to get your tax info to file a return in your name for a fraudulent refund by sending out phishing emails.
Earlier this month, the IRS issued a warning to taxpayers and tax pros alike about a new email scam targeting Hotmail users that is being used to steal personal and financial information.
Don't fall for tangential tax scams, such as notices you are a big foreign lottery or sweepstakes winner, and solicitations, such as debt relief help, that often and fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
Remember, IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text, or any social media. So don't open any attachments or click on any links in e-mails purportedly from the IRS.
Instead, forward any scam e-mails to email@example.com. Then delete those suckers!
Check out my tumblr blog Tumbling Taxes for a look at how a real law enforcement officer handles a fake IRS agent phone scam call.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Beware year-end ID theft and quick cash scams
- Watch out for the Dirty Dozen tax scams of 2017
- Protecting your financial & tax data from Equifax hackers