Parkites should be on alert for IRS imposters
For Americans, early spring through the middle of April is tax season, as citizens hurry to meet the filing deadline imposed by the Internal Revenue Service. Fraudsters, though, have another name for it: hunting season.
Each year, scammers target thousands of people throughout the country, hoping to trick them into wiring money or divulging personal financial information. Residents of Utah — and Summit County — are not insulated from the threat, and the Utah Department of Commerce is warning people to be on alert.
According to the Department of Commerce, scammers are out in force, calling Utahns and claiming to be from the IRS and threatening lawsuits, warrants and fines if the targets don’t pay up right away. Spanish-speaking residents have even been threatened with deportation if they don’t cough up the money.
Since the start of 2016, four victims in Utah have lost nearly $20,000 to the scams, the Department of Commerce reports.
"The IRS (scam) is one that seems to keep coming up over and over, partially because these fraudsters are getting money out of it," said Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. "They’re going to keep doing this as long as people keep paying. We get phone calls about these all the time."
Perhaps the most troubling trend for O’Bannon is that fraudsters are no longer limiting their efforts to tax season. He said the success scammers have seen with the IRS con has caused them to branch out to similar versions of the same ploy.
"There are many different versions of imposter scams," he said. "We worry about all of them. If someone calls and says they’re from the IRS and gets money, they think, ‘Well, I can do this with other things, as well.’ So you may get a phone call saying you haven’t reported for jury duty and you owe money, or that they’re calling from the sheriff’s office and you have an outstanding warrant. I mean, there’s any number of these kinds of imposter scams."
O’Bannon said the most effective way to combat the scams is educating residents and asking them to be vigilant. He said the IRS does not call residents about taxes owed without first mailing them a notice. Other warning signs include the scammers asking targets to pay with a pre-paid card or wire transfer and demanding the money be paid immediately. Fraudsters will also often threaten their targets with dire consequences for not paying.
If a resident receives a call they believe to be a scam, they should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov. If the resident is unsure whether the call was fraudulent, they should contact the IRS to determine the veracity of the call.
"The best thing we can do is put people on notice that these calls are happening because they’re very difficult for us to track down who’s behind it and make them stop and take enforcement actions," O’Bannon said. "And federal agencies have that same challenge. When the scam stops working, the people trying to perpetrate the scam will stop."
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