HARRISBURG – As tax season gets under way, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is warning consumers about fraudulent calls and scams from criminals impersonating IRS agents – and telling recipients they need to send money right away or risk arrest by the IRS.
“Scam artists are always looking for ways to steal from consumers – and during tax season, impersonating the IRS and trying to scare you into paying them thousands of dollars becomes a popular tactic,” Shapiro said.
“My Office is here to protect you, help you avoid being scammed and go after these scammers anywhere we find them.”
One recent victim of the IRS scam is Michelle Albitz, of Barto, Berks County. Albitz said someone called, said he was from the IRS, that she owed thousands of dollars in back taxes – and that agents were waiting outside her home to arrest her if she did not pay her “tax debt” immediately.
Albitz withdrew more than $10,000 from her bank, and as instructed by the thieves, went to retail stores, purchased gift cards – and read the gift card information over the phone to the scam artists.
“I was petrified when someone called me, saying they were from the IRS and demanded money or else I would go to jail,” Albitz said. “They scammed me out of more than $10,000.
“I learned not to answer the phone — unless I recognize the number. I’m grateful Attorney General Shapiro and his Bureau of Consumer Protection are stepping up to protect consumers like myself.”
Shapiro and his Bureau of Consumer Protection offered a series of tips for consumers to help avoid being scammed:
- The IRS does not use threatening or aggressive calls. A scammer may threaten to involve the police, immigration officers or other law enforcement if you do not pay promptly. The IRS will not do that.
- The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail, text or social media, especially contact seeking personal financial information.
- Do not trust the number you see on your caller ID, even if it appears to be coming from the IRS. Scam artists increasingly use a technique known as spoofing to trick caller ID into thinking the call is originating from a certain phone number.
- Do not give out personal information over the phone. Do not provide information over the phone, even if the caller claims to be from the IRS or your bank.
- The IRS does not require taxpayers to use a specific method of payment such as a pre-paid debit card, money order, wire transfer, gift cards or cash.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection recommends an acronym to evaluate unsolicited phone calls or e-mails:
- S: Sudden – The call or e-mail is unexpected;
- C: Contact – Scammers will contact you by phone, e-mail or in-person;
- A: Act Now – The request will be urgent and assert penalties if you do not act quickly;
- M: Money or Information – The scammer will request money or personal information.
Shapiro also encouraged consumers to be wary of pursuing tax refund anticipation checks. These offers may seem like quick, easy money, but the companies offering them charge high interest rates and exorbitant fees off the full refund the taxpayer earned.
Pennsylvania consumers who feel they have been victimized by the IRS or other scams should file a complaint with the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection by calling 800-441-2555 or e-mailing email@example.com.
“With new technologies available like spoofing, it is more important than ever for people to be aware of these scam tactics and know the best way to protect themselves from being victimized,” Shapiro said.
Last year, Shapiro testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the rising threat to consumers – particularly senior citizens – from spoofed robocalls.
Shapiro and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) sent a letter to the FCC, urging it to pass a rule allowing telephone companies to block robocalls and spoofed calls.
Earlier, Shapiro and 28 other attorneys general filed comments with the FCC urging similar action. In November, the FCC finalized new rules allowing phone companies to block these calls.