IRS phone scam a story that sadly bears retelling

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sounding exasperated, City Police Chief Tom Sutherlin stood in front of the Greencastle City Council the other night and must have felt a little like Dr. Seuss in relating a story he's told and retold so many times before.

It's a story involving the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a scam that's as bogus as green eggs and ham.

Tom Sutherlin

Scam I am.

The IRS will not come knocking at your door. It hasn't before and it will nevermore.

The IRS will not call you on a cellphone. Will not call you on a phone at home. Will not call you on a pay phone ever.

Acknowledging that the scam story has been in the local media a number of times in the past couple of years, Chief Sutherlin said that regrettably people are still falling for the notion that the Internal Revenue Service might call you up and threaten you with arrest unless you make immediate payment of supposedly past-due taxes that you didn't even know you owed. And most likely you don't.

"We are not going to come to your front door and arrest you if you don't pay their (bogus) fine," Chief Sutherlin said of local police, emphasizing that fact for the cable access channel TV viewers as well.

Yet the calls continue, and people continue to fall for the ruse, he said.

They fall for it in spring. They fall for it in summer. They fall for it in fall.

But with a little attention to detail, however, local residents can avoid falling victim to the scammers, Sutherlin suggested.

IRS officials would never ask anyone for a credit card number or a debit card number or prepaid card information over the phone, the police chief assured. The IRS will never initiate contact over the phone, he said, but instead will always make contact initially through official correspondence by mail.

The best solution for those who receive such a call, Sutherlin said, is to hang up and contact the Indiana Attorney General's Office (1-888-834-9969) or the Indiana Better Business Bureau (1-866-463-9222) or even the IRS itself (1-800-829-1040).

The IRS phone scam continues to be the most common telephone privacy complaint being reported in Indiana, according to the Attorney General's Office.

It is one of the most widespread phone call scams the office has seen in recent years, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said, noting it has surpassed the common credit repair or "Rachel from Cardholder Services" scam for the first time.

In the IRS scam, callers demand payment of past-due taxes. Scammers might threaten arrest and jail time if the payment is not received immediately, and usually request that the money be paid back through the purchase of pre-paid cards.

The Attorney General's Office has received more than 500 complaints about the IRS scam in 2015 alone, and more than 1,100 complaints in 2014.

Many individuals who have filed complaints with the AG's Office say the caller told them a warrant was out for their arrest and used threatening language, demanding payments upward of $3,000 or $4,000.

Often, the targeted individuals have received the call or were left a voice message multiple times.

"The reason this scam is so successful and pervasive," Zoeller said recently, "is that people fear the IRS and may be willing to take rash actions to avoid trouble.

"Unfortunately, once you pay these criminals, that money is likely lost forever. Do not make any type of payment or give out any personal information to a caller unless you have verified the caller yourself and initiated the call," the Indiana AG warned.

"Gone are the days when we can pick up the phone and trust the person on the other end," Zoeller added.

He listed the three most common telephone privacy complaints received by his office thus far in 2015 as:

-- 1. The IRS Scam (552 complaints).

-- 2. Credit Services Scam, offering to lower credit card interest rate for a fee (442 complaints).

-- 3. Tech Support Scam, offering phony tech services to gain remote access to your computer (231 complaints).

Meanwhile, to avoid getting scammed over the phone the following tips are suggested:

-- Don't let a telephone solicitor pressure you into an immediate decision.

-- Ask for a caller's contact information and say you will call them back. Verify the number given is tied to a legitimate company by doing your own research.

-- Check unfamiliar companies with the Attorney General's Office or the Better Business Bureau before agreeing to any purchase.

-- Do not wire any money or make payment over the phone unless you have independently verified the caller.

-- Talk over big investments with a trusted family friend or financial adviser.

-- Never immediately respond to an offer you don't thoroughly understand.

-- Hang up on any recorded message calls or "robocalls." And don't press any numbers.

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