The Federal Trade Commission is warning about a new variant on phone fraud scams that attempts to bully college students into paying a non-existent student tax. The scam is similar to many of the IRS phone scams that have been ongoing for several years, but with the novelty of pressuring students who likely are much more vulnerable.

Scammers often target the groups that they think are the softest targets, typically going after the elderly with bank fraud calls. And the student tax scam fits that pattern well, as many college students may not have a clear understanding of taxes and what’s real and what’s a scam in that realm. College students often are under quite a bit of financial pressure, as well, making a call from a supposed IRS agent all the more concerning.

“Students from many colleges are telling the FTC that the calls go something like this: the so-called IRS agent tells you that you owe a ‘federal student tax,’ and often has some piece of information that makes the call seem legit. Sometimes it’s the name of your school, or another piece of information about you. The caller demands that you wire money immediately, by MoneyGram or another untraceable method. And, if you don’t act quickly enough, the caller might threaten to report you to the police,” Andrew Johnson of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education said.

The scam calls often are not a one-time thing. If the recipient of the call hangs up, the scammers often will call back using caller ID spoofing to make the calls look more convincing. That’s a classic tactic used by phone scammers and it can be very convincing. Caller ID usually is the first line of defense against phone fraud calls, but there are a number of easily available tools that allow criminals to spoof any phone number and name they choose, so that’s not very effective anymore.

The best way to defend against these scams is to understand that the IRS doesn’t use phone calls as an initial communication method for collecting unpaid taxes. The agency also doesn’t ask consumers to send money through prepaid cards or wire transfers.

“No one from the IRS will ever ask you to wire money, or pay by sending iTunes gift cards or reloadable prepaid cards. That’s a scam, every time. In fact, the IRS will never contact you by phone first. If you owe money for an actual tax, the IRS will send a letter first. So, if you get one of these calls, hang up. Never wire money or give personal or financial information to one of these callers,” Johnson said.

Also, the “federal student tax” isn’t a real thing.

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