Tax day has come and gone — a huge relief to millions across the country. But for an ever-expanding group of Americans, the reprieve may be short-lived. Most of us remain in the crosshairs of a highly charged campaign to collect back taxes. If your clients have not yet received one of the menacing telephone calls threatening heavy fines and jail time (or deportation), they are likely to get one soon. The problem is, it is not the federal government that has been or will be calling. It is a collection of criminals masquerading as IRS agents trying to dupe honest taxpayers into paying money they do not owe.
It is a scam the IRS has continually tried to shut down and warn against, to no avail. The calls keep coming. The fraudsters getting more bold and crafty. The register of victims growing longer and longer — the IRS estimates more than 5,000 since 2013 doling out roughly $30 million in bogus claims. Not to mention the legions of people savvy enough to sidestep the swindle but not before suffering through the threats and bullying so central to the scheme.
According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in one of the many Consumer Alerts the agency has released on the subject, “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.”
The calls are frightening to say the least, preying on the common fear that hell hath no fury like the mighty Taxman scorned. The fake IRS agents will say and threaten to do just about anything to accomplish their dastardly deed. NPR recently released the full audio from one of these calls as part of its own investigation to hunt down these indefatigable thugs. It suggests the typical scam has five distinct stages, if the victim allows it to proceed that far.
1. IRS calling. First, the caller claims to be from an IRS call center, pronouncing that the victim owes the IRS a significant sum in back taxes. The amount allegedly owed is usually kept under $2,000, a threshold amount calculated to result in the strongest likelihood of payment without undue investigation. In the NPR call, the alleged debt is a very realistic $1,986.73 accompanied by a threat of five years in jail if the victim refuses to pay.