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Get ready for an annoying double whammy: Tax Day and scam calls

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Published Apr. 12, 2019

Tax Day is approaching, and as if that wasn't enough of a headache, a swarm of robocalls could be coming your way as well.

According to an analysis by area-code lookup site AllAreaCodes.com, complaints about phone scams are expected to peak next week, with many callers attempting to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service.

"Unfortunately Florida is still the No. 1 state for fraud," said Nikki Fried, head of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "It's (ranked) way too high for too long."

Such calls often follow a pattern, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Typically, someone will call and say they are from the federal tax agency and provide a badge number. Their caller ID may also say it is the Internal Revenue Service, and they might know the last four digits of your Social Security number. Then comes the kicker: They tell you that you owe money, and if you don't pay up, you could be arrested. The caller will then ask for payment via a wire service or on a pre-paid debit card.

AllAreaCodes' analysis, which is based on Federal Trade Commission complaint data from 2016 to 2018, expects the highest number of complaints about such calls to take place between Monday and April 21.

During the first quarter of this year, the Federal Trade Commission recorded just more than 46,000 complaints of fraud in the state. About 7,426 of those were impostor scams, the category that includes fake Internal Revenue Service calls. That's down just slightly from the 7,444 impostor scam complaints during the same quarter in 2018.

Fried's department has recorded 579 complaints about such calls since January 2018.

The calls aren't just annoying, either — they have real impact. Last year, Floridians lost $85.4 million to fraudsters generally, not just robocall impersonators, averaging $400 for each person scammed. This year, the state is already up to $14.4 million in fraud losses, according to the Trade Commission.

Recourse once someone falls victim is often hard to come by, Fried said, because it's difficult to pinpoint who the caller was.

"The best action is to be proactive and to prevent this from happening in the first place," she said.

Here's what you can do to protect yourself.

1. Don't pick up the call if you can avoid it

According to Bill Newton, deputy director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, it's helpful for scammers to know that the number they're calling is valid.

"They may be testing numbers in their file, so if you answer," you confirm it's an active number, he said. "They can then sell that number."

2. Don't pay over the phone or by email

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the federal tax agency will only contact you via snail mail, never by email or phone. It also won't specify a payment method. If you're asked to pay with either a money transfer or a pre-paid debit card, it's not the Internal Revenue Service.

3. Don't give out any personal information

Refrain from giving the caller any identifying information, such as email addresses, Social Security numbers or birthdays, Fried said. This could lead to identity or financial fraud.

4. Report the caller

If you suspect you've received a fake Internal Revenue Service call, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online at ftc.gov/complaint or call 877-382-4357 (FTC-HELP). You can also file a complaint with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov or by calling 800-366-4484. To file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit freshfromflorida.com/Contact-Us/File-a-Complaint.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.