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Tax scams heat up this summer

Detroit Free Press personal finance columnist Susan Tompor

Detroit Free Press personal finance columnist Susan Tompor

A guy with a digitized voice called my home the other day and said his name was Steve Martin. Or that's what he seemed to say. He claimed he was calling with an enforcement action executed by the U.S. Treasury.

"I advise you to cooperate," Steve Martin said. "Help us to help you."

He did not call me a "wild and crazy girl" so I am confident that this voice was not Steve Martin, the comedian.

Yes, the IRS-impersonation collection calls are filling up the landlines once again. I've heard from readers in Detroit, Florida, Texas and elsewhere who told me that they started getting these calls again in July.

And there's a new twist: The con artists aren't just dialing for dollars. The crooks now could be mailing or faxing falsified forms, too, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

"Taxpayers need to know that scammers have started sending fake documents to trick people into sending money or 'verifying' their personal information," said Luis D. Garcia, an IRS spokesman.

If you verify information, that data can then be used to commit tax refund fraud and file a fake tax return using your name and ID.

The Federal Trade Commission put out a consumer notice in mid July saying that scammers are out there impersonating the authorities — the IRS, the U.S. Treasury, local police, the Federal Trade Commission.

If they claim to be from the FTC, they might say they're calling to help you recover money lost to a scammer. How nice, they want to help.

For many of us, all those crazy calls are annoying but we're not loading up cash on a prepaid money card or wiring money via Western Union. We get it. We're working and hauling kids to swim meets. We're not dealing with oddball callers or falling for this IRS scam.

The problem, though, is some people do fall for it, and that's why the scammers keep calling.

Reports of the IRS phone impersonation scam began in August 2013 but the scam has grown into the "largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history" of the Treasury Inspector general's office.

The agency noted that as of Feb. 28, the top five states by dollars lost by victims were California ($3.84 million), New York ($1.35 million), Texas ($795,884), Florida ($760,000) and Virginia ($648,363).

What many of these scammers do is try to speak with authority. They can even have some information on you that makes them sound more legitimate, maybe the last four digits of your Social Security number.

And they often have caller ID set up to make it appear that it's a legitimate IRS phone number when it is not.

A sure sign of fraud, though, is if the caller starts making aggressive threats and demands that you pay up immediately. Another sign of a scam: Someone asks for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone or threatens to have the local police or other law enforcement groups have you arrested for not paying up.

Sometimes, people fear that if they don't pay up they'll owe even more money somehow. Or the elderly could fear losing their independence if they somehow end up in trouble with the IRS.

Once again, it's important to recognize that the IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment or tell you to put money on a prepaid debit card. The IRS will mail you a bill first if tax money is owed. But again, make sure to call the IRS before you pay anything. If you think you might owe taxes, call your tax preparer and the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040. Or read more on the alerts at irs.gov.

Tax scams heat up this summer 08/02/15 [Last modified: Sunday, August 2, 2015 6:47pm]
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