Tax season has ended, but not for scammers. This year's strain of tax-related phone scams with callers identifying themselves as Internal Revenue Service representatives has elicited warnings in recent weeks from the state attorney general, state Department of Consumer Protection, state Department of Revenue Services, the Better Business Bureau and, of course, the IRS.
Now let's add another warning from Jen Win-Johnson of Newington. Last week, someone who identified himself as Mark White called to tell her she owed the IRS $1,000. White said she had ignored letters the IRS sent last September and December.
After citing the IRS case number, he said if she did not pay now she would lose her home, her possessions and her credit history.
"Then," says Win-Johnson, "he proceeded to say I would be arrested and my kids would go to foster care. Then he said I would be deported."
It sounds as if Win-Johnson needed more than H&R Block to get out of this mess.
"I told him I would go to the IRS office today and pay what I owe," she says.
Other than hanging up, this was perhaps the best response.
No, he said, it must be paid over the phone.
"I will not pay anything unless I see things in writing," Win-Johnson told him.
Then, she says, he hung up.
Many people, including Win-Johnson, quickly identify such a call as a scam. The warnings indicate, unfortunately, that many others do not.
"This is a crime that mainly targets low-income and non-English speaking people," said DRS Commissioner Kevin Sullivan in a joint warning released recently with the state attorney general's office and DCP, "because these scammers are counting on their victims being too afraid to say, 'No,' or even report the crime after it has happened."
The state attorney general's office has received dozens of calls recently from consumers about the scam, says spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski. Yet the attorney general's office has received only 10 formal complaints about IRS scams since 2009, she says. Six of those complaints match the current IRS scam. The office has also received complaints about false tax returns, when a taxpayer files a return only to find a fraudulent return already has been filed.
The IRS sends written notification through U.S. mail of any tax due. It does not call or email.
The IRS warns that scammers will:
>> Use fake names (common names, like Mark White) and IRS badge numbers.
>> Sometimes have the last four digits of your Social Security number (available on public-information databases).
>> Use the IRS toll-free number, through a method called spoofing, so the IRS name appears on Caller ID.
>> Follow up phone calls with email.
>> Threaten jail time or driver's license revocation, the call back and identify themselves as local police or department of motor vehicles, again using spoofing tactics.
If you receive such a call: Hang up. Report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484. File a complaint with the Federal Commission by using the "Complaint Assistant." (Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to your comments.)
You can also call the state attorney general office's Consumer Assistance Unit at 860-808-5420, the state Department of Consumer Protection at 1-800-842-2649 and the state Department of Revenue Services at 860-297-5962.
If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.
"What upsets me the most," says Win-Johnson, "is that people fall victim to this. People who can't afford to fall victim to this kind of scam."