Hang up if a caller claims to be from the IRS

9:08 AM, Feb 23, 2014   |    comments
This March 22, 2013 file photo shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.
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(USA TODAY) One Grand Blanc woman was so terrified by a supposed call from the IRS demanding money that she drove immediately to the bank while the aggressive caller remained on the cell phone.

But the frightened woman slyly handed the teller a note that said "Robbery in Progress."

The police arrived at the bank, according to Grand Blanc Detective Steve Hatfield, because the teller thought that's who she needed to call.

Once the scam was explained, the police officer then actually talked to the guy on the cell, Hatfield said. But the brazen con artist caller threatened to lock up the police officer if he didn't pay the back-due taxes.

We're looking at one whacked out tax-time telephone scam here. But it's a scam that's growing to be more pervasive, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS wants to make it clear that the IRS is not calling and demanding that anyone put money on a GreenDot card or other prepaid card, suggesting that you give the IRS your credit card number over the phone. Do not believe anyone who demands that you wire the IRS money, either.

And no, you're not going to lose your driver's license if you don't pay up.

"They're calling people up and telling them they're the IRS and threatening them," said Cindy Burnett, special agent and public information officer for the Department of Treasury IRS criminal investigation office in Traverse City.

The IRS said scammers have called taxpayers in nearly every state in the country.

"They're hitting Michigan really hard," Burnett said.

Burnett heard of one case where a caller running a scam told a Michigan resident to pay the IRS by bringing a money order to a local gas station where the "IRS" would supposedly meet them.

One Troy resident received a morning call on Feb. 4 claiming to be from the IRS. The caller demanded that the man pay up and put $4,286.49 on a GreenDot prepaid card. The man left home to get the money but his wife was suspicious and called the Troy police. Once he was alerted about the scam, the man didn't buy the prepaid card or send any money.

The Grand Blanc Police Department received two other complaints in the past month or so about this scam, Hatfield said.

In late January, Hatfield said, one woman did end up sending about $3,500 via GreenDot prepaid cards for supposedly back-due taxes that her husband owed. The money was lost to fraudsters.

"It's gone," Hatfield said.

The IRS put out an earlier warning on this scam in the fall last year. But the scammers are making these calls now and the calls are likely to heat up as we move closer to the tax deadline April 15.

Some tell-tale signs of the scam: The scammers are targeting seniors or recent immigrants. The caller says the person owes money to the IRS and demands to be paid promptly. The taxpayer is told to go to the store to load cash onto a prepaid debit card or wire the cash. The person who buys a prepaid card may be asked to read the numbers over the phone so the money is immediately available to the con artist.

Once money is put on a prepaid card or wired, it's harder to track the con artists, who could be overseas.

Other signs: Caller ID might show an IRS number but that number is being spoofed and it's not a real IRS call. The scammers may give a fake name and a fake IRS badge number to sound more authentic.

And the fake IRS callers act like they have your file right there.

"The thing that's really terrifying is they have the last four digits of your Social Security number. They know your name," said Luis D. Garcia, a spokesman for the IRS in Detroit.

Some callers are extremely intimidating, too.

"They become verbally abusive. They use foul language. You're not going to get that from the IRS," Garcia said.

If you hang up, it's even possible you'd receive another call that might look like its from it's from the local police or the Secretary of State and involve someone threatening to revoke a driver's license or business license. Again, that's a follow up scam call that's designed to convince you to wire money.

The first IRS contact with taxpayers on a legitimate tax issue is likely to take place via a letter sent in the regular mail, not e-mail or a phone call.

Contact the IRS directly if you believe you have a tax issue at 800-829-1040.

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