Treasury Launches Counteroffensive against IRS Phone Scammers

Treasury Launches Counteroffensive against IRS Phone Scammers

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is pursuing fraudsters posing as IRS agents who call to harass taxpayers about fictitious tax debts, calling them back to warn them about their criminal activity and getting the phone company to shut them down.

TIGTA said Thursday it has gone on counteroffensive against the scammers, but is warning taxpayers to stay vigilant against them this tax season.

“Without question, TIGTA’s efforts have impeded these criminals’ ability to victimize taxpayers over the past few months,” TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George said in a statement.

He noted that TIGTA’s four-part strategy to thwart callers is working. “These efforts are producing results,” said George. “Where the perpetrators used to be able to get a victim every 40 to 50 calls, now they must make 300 to 400 attempts to claim a victim.”

TIGTA’s counteroffensive consists of: 1) using an autodialer to call the scammers to advise them that their activity is criminal and to cease and desist; 2) working with telephone companies to shut down the telephone numbers used to perpetrate these crimes; 3) publishing telephone numbers associated with the criminal activity on the Internet; and 4) engaging in outreach efforts with the public, the media, Congress, and other stakeholders to educate taxpayers about the scam. 

In January, TIGTA launched a series of public service announcements on YouTube. This month, the videos also became available on the IRS’s YouTube channel.

“Criminals view this scam as they do many others; it is a crime of opportunity,” George said in congressional testimony March 8. “While we plan on arresting and prosecuting more individuals, the scam will not stop until people stop paying the scammers money. Our best chance at defeating this crime is to educate people so they do not become victims in the first place. Every taxpayer we protect from this crime is a victory.”

TIGTA said it has received reports of more than 1 million contacts from scammers since October 2013 and has become aware of over 5,500 victims who have collectively paid approximately $29 million as a result of the scam in which criminals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards, money orders or wire transfers from their banks. Read more on Accounting Today.