Don’t trust caller ID.
That’s the message from the Internal Revenue Service, which announced Thursday that an extremely thorough phone scam is tricking taxpayers nationwide. The fraudsters spoof an IRS caller ID, they often know the last four digits of their victims’ Social Security numbers, they send phony IRS support emails, and they even have voices in the background who sound like they’re assisting other taxpayers. Often hostile, they demand payment through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer, and if you refuse, they follow up with calls that appear to be from the local police or Department of Motor Vehicles.
IRS regional spokesman Bill Brunson says it’s the worst scam he’s seen since joining the IRS in 1986.
"It’s horrendous," Brunson said. "There’s a level of sophistication that I’ve not seen before."
Spoofing a caller ID to commit fraud is illegal, thanks to Congress’ passing of the Truth in Caller ID Act in 2010. But "non-harmful spoofing" is legal, and websites such as SpoofCard sell phone apps that enable a caller to mimic any and all people, businesses and government agencies. Non-harmful uses might include pranks, or changing the appearance of your number to avoid being called back.
Spoofcard.com founder Meir Cohen said he has heard no indication that his product has been used in the scam, and that most SpoofCard users are trying to protect their privacy, and secondarily for "harmless pranks."
"When you have millions of customers using a product, you’re going to find some bad apples using it for nefarious purposes," Cohen said. "We do everything we can to work with law enforcement to make sure that our product doesn’t get abused."
IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a news release that the scam has affected "nearly every state." Brunson referred The Tribune to the Federal Trade Commission for confirmation that the scam has affected Utahns, but an FTC spokesman said that information was not immediately available.
"If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling," Werfel said.
The IRS is more likely to contact taxpayers via email, and even then, they will not demand personal information. If you get a phone call from an overly hostile IRS employee who wants an immediate wire transfer, you’re probably safe just to hang up, but just in case, you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and check to see if you have any active payment issues. Officials also urge you to report scam attempts to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 and the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov with the words "IRS Telephone Scam" in the wording of your complaint.
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