Phony IRS calls cash in on trusting customers
A "fake IRS" scam, called the largest rip off of its kind in US history, has already claimed 20,000 victims and cost them more than $1 million.
An Indianapolis victim, Sherry, was e-mailing Friday for help.
"I told family members I got scammed," she said.
It started with repeated phone calls over the last week or so, she says, "saying that I qualify for a $7,000 grant from the government in Washington D.C."
The caller ID on her phone even displayed a Washington D.C. number.
Some calls even show up as coming from the IRS. The operator reads back part of the victim's Social Security number to convince them they are really with the IRS, but they're not. In fact, they want money from you before you get money from them.
"They said, 'Ma'am, we can't transfer your money...because the IRS wants to charge 10 percent of the $7,000. You got to pay us $700 up front before we get your money," Sherry said.
It sounded legit, especially since she was able to actually call the operators back on the Washington and New York phone numbers.
So Sherry loaded the cash onto debit cards, gave the card numbers to the operator along with her bank account information, but the money never came.
"It didn't happen," she said.
Sherry's now making a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office, which has logged 24 fake IRS complaints so far.
"If the IRS calls you, hang up. Call the IRS (yourself), make sure the IRS really does want to talk to you," said Terry Tolliver with the attorney general's office.
In the newest IRS scam, the caller even calls you back if you hang up and the call shows up on caller ID as your local police department.
But Tolliver says don't be fooled.
"One thing we all know now, the police don't generally make an appointment to come pick you up," Tolliver said.
Follow-up emails from a fictitious IRS web site are also part of the scam.
Investigators say there are ways you can protect yourself.
"Don't throw anything out," says Kerry Hannigan, an IRS Special Agent. "They're getting it in your garbage, they're getting it from your computer. They're getting it from your credit card information. They send scam emails, they'll try just about anything to get that personal information."
Hannigan says taxpayers should always use caution when releasing personal information.
Even if you owe taxes, experts urge you to call the IRS for help with your payment questions.
Tax questions? IRS (800) 829-1040.
Think you've been the target of a scam? TIGTA: (800) 366-4484
You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.