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IRS phone scam imposters strike harder

(AP graphic)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – When the law enforcement agency that oversees the Internal Revenue Service warned in the spring of 2014 of the "largest-ever phone fraud scam targeting taxpayers," it did not realize the 20,000 victims would be just the tip of a growing iceberg.

As of today, close to 300,000 consumers have reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration, or TIGTA for short, that they've been contacted by callers claiming to be from the IRS. As we head into tax season in 2015, 12,000 people are complaining to TIGTA about the IRS impersonation scam every single week. At least $14 million have been reported to be extorted by criminals, and the actual number may be twice that high.

Even one of the chief investigators fielded a call at home. How much did he supposedly owe the IRS in back taxes? $750 for Tim Camus, deputy treasury inspector general for investigations. And he was told if he didn't pay right away, the caller would send the police to his door.

Some people have reported that the caller followed through on that threat. When the caller reaches out to police, he or she pretends to be the homeowner, and creates confusion and fear at some innocent taxpayer's front door.

How much does Karen Rhodes of Gaithersburg, Md. need that kind of pressure?

"Like I need a hole in the head," she said.

Rhodes holds on to her disability check tightly and knew she didn't owe the IRS money. But the impostors have been persistent, calling twice in one week to insist that a warrant would be out for her arrest.

"Please, I have a degree in accounting from the University of Maryland," she said wryly, while sitting below her framed diploma. "I took a special interest in audits."

TIGTA warns that callers who commit this fraud:

- Call out of the blue, without sending letters first

- Use threatening language, which an IRS representative is not supposed to do

- Often have heavy accents associated with international phone banks

- Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers

- Know victims' personal information, like the last four digits of a Social Security Number

- Rig the Caller ID number to appear as if it's the IRS calling.

If you do owe federal taxes, or even if you are uncertain, you are advised to call the IRS at 800-829-1040. If you believe you've been targeted by this scam, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Make sure to include "IRS Telephone Scam" in your complaint. And report the incident to TIGTA at www.treasury.gov/TIGTA or call (800) 366-4484. There are five TIGTA staff members dedicated solely to handling complaints arising from this fraud.

Rhodes called 7 On Your Side because she wanted to spread the word before anyone else is duped.

"Hopefully, these folks have barked up the wrong tree this time," she said.

Deputy Inspector Camus is concerned that the impostors will ramp up their calls as tax season approaches. He says the scam works because it preys on people's fear of the IRS. Stopping it is his agency's top priority in 2015.

In his last words to the IRS impostor who called him at home, Camus warned, "Your day will come."

But it may not come before April 15.

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