WASHINGTON - The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reminded taxpayers to remain on "High Alert" during the coming tax filing season to avoid being conned by criminals who impersonate Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Treasury employees in an effort to steal their money.
Inspector General J. Russell George noted significant progress in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators of the scam, which has robbed U.S. taxpayers of more than $61 million dollars since it began in 2013. In total, TIGTA investigations have resulted in Federal charges being filed against over 90 individuals. In October 2016, 56 individuals (24 of whom were located in the United States), and five call centers located in India, were named in a sweeping Federal indictment for their roles in the IRS impersonation scam and other frauds. On November 13, 2017, the last of the 24 U.S.-based defendants from the October 2016 indictment pleaded guilty. Read the Department of Justice news release.
"This is the largest, most comprehensive investigation that TIGTA has ever conducted, and I am extremely proud of our work," said Inspector General George, who added that collaboration between TIGTA and a broad cross-section of Federal law enforcement partners, including the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, other offices of Inspectors General, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have strengthened U.S. efforts to thwart these fraudulent schemes. "Thanks to both our law-enforcement and public awareness efforts, it has become much more difficult for these criminals to ensnare new victims," he said. "We continue to make great strides in our investigation of this scam, including the successful prosecution of over one dozen individuals associated with it over the past year," he said. "We continue to pursue these individuals aggressively, and late last month, we arrested four more people who were charged with participating in the scheme.
"Please remember to remain on guard against fraudulent calls. If you receive one, hang up, and report the call immediately to our website," he added.
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 and demand that they make payment. Inspector General George noted that the scam has hit taxpayers in every State in the country. These scammers threaten unsuspecting taxpayers with arrest, imprisonment, deportation, grand jury indictment, loss of a business or driver's license, or other punishments, if the taxpayers do not immediately pay them for taxes the taxpayers actually do not owe.
TIGTA started tracking the scam in October 2013. As of November 13, 2017, TIGTA has received contacts from over 2.1 million taxpayers who reported that they had received telephone contacts from scammers. Of this number, over 12,400 victims reported that they have collectively paid more than $61.6 million dollars as a result of the scam. "The good news is that while we receive thousands of reports of these calls every week, the scammers are only succeeding with a handful of victims," George said. "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. Still, even one victim is too many. All Americans must remain wary of these attempts to impersonate government officials."
TIGTA's continued outreach initiative includes video Public Service Announcements in English and in Spanish that warn taxpayers about the scam. In addition, TIGTA is working with its partners in the public and private sectors to help get the word out, both through traditional law enforcement channels and through direct outreach to associations, nongovernmental organizations, and the media. TIGTA has posted an IRS scam flyer and a poster on its website.
"This is a crime of opportunity, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to take away the opportunity," the Inspector General added. "If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you do not pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling, and your cue to hang up," he said. "Again, do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone."
Here is what you need to know. The IRS generally first contacts people by mail - not by phone - about unpaid taxes, and the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order, or wire transfer. The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number over the phone.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here's what to do:
- If you owe Federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions;
- If you do not owe taxes, fill out the "IRS Impersonation scam" form on TIGTA's website, www.tigta.gov, or call TIGTA at 800-366-4484; and
- You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.
TIGTA encourages taxpayers to be alert to phone and e-mail scams that use the IRS name. The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text, or any social media. You should forward scam e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not open any attachments or click on any links in those e-mails.
Taxpayers should be aware of other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes winner) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
TIGTA urges taxpayers to spread the word to others who receive spam calls: just hang up on the callers. If you have Internet access, you can also enter any suspicious phone numbers into an Internet search engine to check if the numbers have already been identified as being associated with fraudulent activity. Further, these calls can be blocked on mobile devices. Read more about the scam on our website, www.tigta.gov.