Maine Attorney General Reminds Taxpayers That Only the IRS Can Actually Make Your Life a Living Hell, So Accept No Substitutes

elderly lady

elderly lady(AUGUSTA) Tax season may just be getting started, but tax scammers have been hard at work already. The Maine Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have gotten thousands of complaints about one kind of scammer in particular — IRS imposters.

Here’s how they work: Scammers posing as IRS officials call and say you owe taxes. They threaten to arrest you, or deport you, or revoke your license, or even shut down your business if you don’t pay right away. They may know your Social Security number — or at least the last four digits of it — making you think it really is the IRS calling. They also can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC.

You are the instructed to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the number — something no government agency would ask you to do. Once you do it, you find out it was a scam, and the money is gone.

“This scam has become one of the most commonly reported phone scams that our Office has received. No governmental agency or legitimate business will call you up and demand an immediate payment by pre-paid debit card,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “If you receive one of these calls, do not answer any of their questions. Hang up the phone immediately.”

If you owe — or think you owe — federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail, not by phone.

Report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. “Last year we also heard about a number of Mainers who when they filed with the IRS, discovered someone had fraudulently claimed their tax return already,” said Attorney General Mills. “People should file early, always take steps to protect their private information and review their credit report yearly to see if there has been any unusual activity.”

One Maine resident recently recorded his interaction with a scammer claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service. The call illustrates several tactics used by phone scammers. They claimed to be from an entity that the target is familiar with and who he has the potential to owe money to. When challenged about his authenticity, the scammer tried to reassure the target by giving a badge number in order to sound official. And finally, the payment could only be made by “Green Dot Money Pak,” available at places like WalMart or drug store chains, and not by other means. The scammers are also not easily dissuaded; different people called repeatedly making the same claims in order to make him think they were legitimate.

Tax identity theft happens when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft is the most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC.

Tax identity theft victims typically find out about the crime when they get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in their name, or IRS records show they received wages from an employer they don’t know. If you get a letter like this, don’t panic. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. Learn more at ftc.gov/taxidtheft.

If you have questions about these or other consumer matters, please contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office at 1(800) 436-2131 or consumer.mediation@maine.gov .

January 26, 2015
Attorney General’s Office