The variety of IRS tax scams is continuing to increase, and the agency is now telling consumers to be wary of a recent shift in scammers’ tactics regarding tax refund schemes. The latest version involves scammers calling consumers to “verify” details of their tax returns and harvesting valuable personal information.
Most of these schemes involve a handful of common elements: a spoofed phone number showing up on the caller ID, an urgent plea for information, and some dire consequences if the victim doesn’t comply. In many cases, especially with tax scams, the caller will warn that if the victim doesn’t immediately pay some fictitious back taxes, the victim will be arrested. These scams, while somewhat primitive, are highly effective. The IRS said recently that consumers have lost more than $26 million in these scams since 2013.
Now, the agency says that scammers have evolved their tactics a bit, and rather than threatening arrest, the callers ask the victim to confirm personal details such as Social Security numbers or bank account information. The goal is to gather data for identity theft and other schemes.
“These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”
The key ingredient in all of these campaigns, regardless of the tactic, is the use of caller ID spoofing. Scammers use software to disguise their voices and also to spoof the number they’re calling from to make it look like a legitimate IRS number. That deception at the beginning of the scam gives it the air of legitimacy for many victims, making them more susceptible to the pitch or threats from the scammers.
Scammers often target categories of people whom they think may be vulnerable, especially senior citizens, college students, or others. IRS officials say though, that no one is immune to the schemes, which also include phishing emails purporting to come from the agency.
“These schemes touch people in every part of the country and in every walk of life. It’s a growing list of people who’ve encountered these. I’ve even gotten these calls myself,” Koskinen said.
Image from Flickr stream of Loren Kerns.