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At least $5 million lost in IRS telephone scams, warning reissued

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WASHINGTON (CNN/WJLA) - The Internal Revenue Service said that fraudsters continue to impersonate IRS agents and demand bogus payments, despite prior warnings about this scam.

As convincing as they are, urgent and threatening phone calls are the first sign that this is a scam, the IRS said. (WJLA)

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which oversees the IRS, has received 90,000 complaints about this scam so far, and about 1,100 victims have been duped out of $5 million.

Some fraudsters tell victims they owe money and will be in big trouble if they don't pay immediately, while others tell taxpayers they are owed big refunds and they simply need to provide their personal information -- like a bank account number -- to claim those sums of money.

They may use a method known as spoofing so that the number on the caller ID appears to be the toll-free IRS number, and then use bogus names and fake IRS badge numbers to introduce themselves. To make the call seem more official, they often send an email to victims after the call to confirm the conversation.

Some threaten to send a victim to jail or revoke their license, hang up in a rage and then call back moments later pretending to be the police or DMV. As convincing as they are, urgent and threatening phone calls are the first sign that this is a scam, the IRS said.

"[The] first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement. "A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment."

Koskinen said IRS agents will never ask for credit card or bank account information by phone, will never threaten enforcement action if a payment isn't immediately made, and they will not require a consumer to use a specific payment method -- like a prepaid card.

The IRS advises people to hang up and call its office or the inspector general directly to report the incident.

Tips To Protect Yourself:

• Report the incident to the reasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

• File a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. From the complaint homepage, select “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” In the notes, please include “IRS Telephone Scam.”

• If it’s an email, forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Don’t open any attachments or click on any links in those emails.

• If you owe — or think you owe — federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions.

Other characteristics of this scam include:

• Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

• Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.

• Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

• Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

• Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

• After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

• If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.

• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.

• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

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