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Don't fall for an 'IRS' phone scam

I knew something was up when my father called me at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Normally this was the time he settles down for his mid-morning nap after taking care of the dogs and sending my mother off to her prayer meeting. (He is really enjoying his well-deserved retirement.)

But his prime nap time had been interrupted by a phone call from someone claiming to work for the Internal Revenue Service. He was informed that a lawsuit had been filed against him for incorrectly filing his taxes and he needed to call them back right away.

And he did. The caller immediately launched into a spiel about incorrectly filed taxes and how my dad needed to pay right away or the lawsuit would move forward.

Dad responded, "Well, if you have a lawsuit filed against me, I guess I'll need the case number."

Click. Dial tone.

Dad called their bluff. And then he called the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the scam.

According to the IRS, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received roughly 896,000 contacts since October 2013. Five thousand victims have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam or one of its variations.

Scammers often make calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave "urgent" callback requests through phone "robo-calls" or via a phishing email.

And to make things appear official, scammers might use official-sounding titles and badge numbers and alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. They may use the victim's name, address and other personal information to make the call sound legitimate.

What made my dad realize that it was a scam call?

"I was pretty sure that the IRS wouldn't call me out of the blue. They'd send a letter first," he said.

Here are a few other things that should tip you off to a scam. The IRS does not do the following:

• Call to demand immediate payment. Nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

• Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

• Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here's what you can do:

If you don't owe taxes or have no reason to think that you do, do not give out any information and hang up immediately. Then contact the TIGTA to report the call. Use their "IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting" web page. You may also call (800) 366-4484.

Like my father, you can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the "FTC Complaint Assistant" on FTC.gov and add "IRS telephone scam" in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

My father said calling the FTC was "pretty easy" and he even had a follow-up call from them to ask about his experience. The scammer did try calling my parents again, but Dad just hung up on him this time and called the FTC again.

If it can happen to my father, it can certainly happen to you. Be on the lookout for scammy callers and please do your part to report them.

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Duluth Budgeteer News.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176
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