FREEHOLD – Scammers are turning up the heat in their illegal attempts to steal your money, warned Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.In the past few weeks there have been dozens of reports about phone scammers targeting local residents with false claims of people owing tax money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), winning multi-million dollar lottery prizes and a laundry list of big money scams. The calls are aggressive and employ high-pressure tactics that include threats to send people to jail if the money doesn’t get paid immediately or too-good-to-be-true promises of huge cash payouts.
“The IRS does not call anyone out of the blue trying to collect back taxes and the lottery commission doesn’t call to say you won. These con artists are simply extorting money by means of fear, lies and intimidation. Their only objective is conning you into sending them money. Don’t fall for it,” Gramiccioni said.
In recent weeks, the phone scammers have gone as far as to combine the schemes to get your attention, get you on the phone and get you to fork over your hard-earned money. Scammers are calling to say you owe back taxes to the IRS and leaving a phone number to call arrange for payment. But when you call the number you are being told you don’t owe any money: “Oh that must be a mistake. What’s your name? Oh I have you on my list as a lottery winner. You won big!”
The voice on the other end will instruct you about paying a registration fee to process the winning ticket, and later you will be told that in order to collect the large sum of your winnings you will need to pay the taxes upfront. Every twist and turn in the conversation is building on your desire to rake in the money or face the fear-factor of losing it all.
“The first thing everyone must keep in mind is that there is never any money on the other end of the phone. Think about it – every aspect of our lives thrives on paperwork. The IRS doesn’t call you without warning to collect money. The State won’t call you to inform you of lost property or uncollected money owed to you. The Lottery Commission wants to see your winning ticket. They have no reason to call you out of the blue. The old adage bears repeating: If it sounds too good to be true. It is too good to be true,” Gramiccioni said.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) revealed there have been more than a million reports of phone scammer calls since October 2013. The TIGTA is aware of over 5,770 victims who have collectively paid out over $31 million as a result of the scams. New Jersey ranks #5 for the amount of money ($1.5 million) paid out to con artists to-date.
The con artists appear to be modifying their behavior and tactics as the public seems to be more aware of their criminal activity. What was once a typically hostile caller can now appear to be a helpful person looking to verify information about your tax return or other personal information – all information any legitimate agency or organization should have on record if you are doing business with them.
No matter what tactics the caller is using, the con artist caller will sound convincing when they call, and they will know a lot about you – including your name, address and maybe even the last four digits of your Social Security Number. To add to the illusion of them being “official,” the scammers usually have changed the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling, and use phony names and fake IRS identification badge numbers to enhance the deception.
“The phone call comes unannounced and unexpected. The voice on the other end of the phone will make claims of being a representative from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the lottery or some other business. The caller will quickly inform you owe thousands of dollars to the IRS for back taxes, or that you have unclaimed winnings from some lottery you don’t recall entering. Whatever they use to get your attention red flags should be popping up that you are getting scammed,” Gramiccioni explained.
The typically hostile caller demands to know how you plan to pay the bogus debt, or asks you to pay some tax on your winnings before you can obtain the large payout. If you are being scammed about back taxes the scammer will eventually make threats of calling in the local police, jail time, deportation, the closure of a business, revoking a driver’s license and any other scare tactic to force the call recipient to pay up. Lottery winning scams usually come with fear factor threats of losing millions if you don’t pay the taxes first.
The scammers have been known to leave a message, if you don’t answer the call, often the message is characterized as “urgent” and directs you to return the call specifically to an IRS Agent whose name and identification numbers are phony.
Scammers are also using phishing, malware and e-mail schemes to extort money from you by locking up your computer, installing software to steal your information and a long list of other schemes all cloaked in the anonymous world of the internet.
IRS officials say it is pretty easy to know when a supposed IRS caller is a fake, and offers the following five tips about what the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
- If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040, where a legitimate IRS representative can help you with a payment issue.
- If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
- You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.
Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about a crime can contact Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line by calling 1-800-671-4400; can text “MONMOUTH” plus their tip to 274637; or, they can email a tip via the website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com
Monmouth County Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of criminals and fugitives.
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