No one wants to get in trouble with the taxman, and scammers know it. In recent weeks, hundreds of North Carolinians have reported getting calls from scammers posing as IRS and US Treasury agents, demanding that they pay taxes immediately or face arrest. These aggressive scammers have one goal: to harass and intimidate you until you pay the phony tax bill.
Fortunately, most people don’t fall for the scam. But some do. Just last week a woman in central North Carolina lost $22,000 to tax scammers who convinced her to pay them via iTunes cards and direct bank deposit.
In 2015 my Consumer Protection Division received more than 3,000 reports of IRS scams. Victims of the scam lost more than $150,000. This year we’ve already received around 700 reports, with a surge as the April 15 deadline to file taxes draws nearer.
Scammers know how to play on our fears. Hearing from an IRS agent puts you on edge right away. Then the agent insists that you owe thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes and if you weren’t nervous before, you definitely are now. Most of us pay our taxes in full, on time. But if someone in authority says you owe more, you may agree to pay whatever they ask.
If you ignore the calls or don’t respond to them, the fake IRS agents are likely to keep calling. Once they have you on the phone, the threats begin. They may tell you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest unless you pay them now. They may threaten to arrest you at work, in front of your boss and co-workers.
In some cases, a second scammer calls posing as the local law enforcement officer, US Marshall or FBI agent who will arrest you if the tax bill isn’t paid. The scammers can also manipulate Caller ID to make it look like their calls come from the real government agency they are impersonating.
If you get a call saying you owe taxes and must pay right away, don’t fall for it. Hang up and report the call to my office.
• The real IRS will not threaten to arrest you, deport you or revoke your license if you don’t pay your taxes immediately.
• Legitimate tax agents will never demand immediate payment or require that you pay by credit card, pre-paid debit card, iTunes cards, direct deposit or wire transfer.
• Typically, the IRS communicates with consumers about tax issues via mail, not by phone, email or text message.
• Ask for the caller’s call back number and employee badge number, and then call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 to check them out.
• Don’t rely on Caller ID to identify who is calling you, since scammers can manipulate it to make it look like they’re calling from the real IRS.
• Never share personal information, such as your Social Security Number or bank account number, with anyone you don’t know who contacts you, even if they claim to be with the IRS. Identity thieves can use this information to open up accounts in your name and even claim your tax refund.
• Report phony tax collectors to my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or file a consumer complaint online at ncdoj.gov.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff work to help North Carolina homeowners steer clear of scams and unscrupulous business practices. We are here if you need assistance, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help homeowners avoid problems from the start.