IRS warns of phone scams targeting hundreds of people

by: Greg Suskin Updated:


YORK COUNTY, S.C. - A warning from the IRS, after hundreds of people are targeted by a scam also hitting the Carolinas.

The IRS has put out a nationwide alert about phony agents trying to steal your money over the phone. A victim of such a scam contacted Channel 9 on Tuesday, hoping to keep it from happening to anyone else.

Melissa Lowder of York County was terrified when a man called her Monday, claiming he was an IRS agent. He even had her Social Security number.

"He told me, you'll be arrested tomorrow for tax fraud if you don't pay $3,000 today," Lowder said.

The caller went on to tell her that the IRS had investigated her for 10 years, found errors in her tax returns and the local Sheriff's Office had a warrant for her arrest.

"I mean, I'm just freaking out. I'm like, 'What? I'm going to be arrested?'" she said.

She immediately called her mother, then a tax lawyer, then the Sheriff's Office. All of them convinced her that something was wrong and she shouldn't send any money.

IRS spokesman Mark Hanson said this is a sophisticated scam. He said the people behind it use false names, may have personal information about you and can even dupe your caller I.D. into telling you the IRS is really calling.

"These scam artists are threatening taxpayers, they're saying that a taxpayer's driver's license is going to be revoked, they're threatening immigration status of taxpayers, and these are bogus phone calls," Hanson said.

Channel 9 called the California number than Lowder still had in her phone where the bogus call came from. When Channel 9 called, a woman answered saying, "Internal Revenue Service." When the reporter said he was with WSOC-TV, she hung up the phone.

The IRS said this scam has some aspects that are of particular concern.

• 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.

The lesson for Lowder was crystal clear.

"Don't believe anybody that calls you and says anything to you about taxes," she said.

The IRS told Channel 9 this has happened to hundreds of people around the country in the last month.

Many of the victims were called from the same phone number. They did not know how many people had been tricked into giving money to the scammers.

The IRS said they'll never call you on the phone first about taxes you might owe, but will send a certified letter instead.

If you think you've been a victim of a scam like this, you're asked to call the treasury inspector general and report it. The number is 800-366-4484.