Local residents complain of new IRS phone scam

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 24, 2014

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BIRMINGHAM — Never give out personal information over the phone.

That’s the message Birmingham Police Cmdr. Terry Kiernan hopes residents will take away this week after several of their neighbors, many of whom are seniors, complained that they were targeted by phone scammers.

According to reports, the most recent rash of phone scams involved a group of callers claiming to be special investigators with the IRS, telling the victims they’re involved in some kind of tax fraud. The department received around 20 complaints in just a few days from people who claimed that the caller contacted them and attempted to solicit personal information.

“They’re calling up, basically making the claim the person they’re calling is involved in some kind of IRS investigation and a warrant will be issued for their arrest unless this is taken care of,” said Kiernan. “They say if they (pay), they’ll cancel the warrant and won’t tell the local police department to arrest you.”

Fortunately, Kiernan said, the complainants didn’t let the scammers get the best of them this round, and instead of handing over their sensitive information, which could potentially lead to identity theft or other financial trouble, they turned to police.

“I don’t think it’s gotten that far, but in the past with these things, it’s usually $500, $1,000 or more. If they get them on the hook, they’ll get them again,” said Kiernan. “Usually, they want (the victims to) put money on Green Dot cards. They’ll test the waters and they’ll do $300, and if they get it, they’ll call back and say, ‘Well, the charges have changed and now we need $1,000.’ They’ll keep doing it until the person catches on that it’s a scam.”

Despite the fact that the callers were said to have Middle Eastern or Indian accents, the caller ID lists the number as coming from Washington, D.C. — a tech-savvy trick that makes the scam all the more convincing, Kiernan said.

“People called us really nervous, asking if there was a warrant for them. Of course not. The IRS just doesn’t work that way. They’re paper people; they send out letters. They don’t just make cold calls,” he said.

Terry Oraha agrees. The certified public accountant with Arvai & Associates P.C. in Troy has been working with the IRS for years, so when he got a call from someone claiming to be from the government, he knew to be wary.

“I know their procedures, so I asked, ‘How come you’re not doing this?’ and, ‘How come you’re not doing that?’ and they eventually hung up on me,” said Oraha.

It doesn’t take a tax expert to spot an IRS scam, he said, pointing to a consumer alert the IRS released Aug. 29. Aware of the increasing amount of phone scams involving callers claiming to be from the agency, the IRS listed on its website five indicators of a potential threat.

The IRS will never:
• Call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice.
• 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.
• Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

For some, the warning signs might seem obvious. But Kiernan said the scammers are constantly evolving — changing stories, phone numbers and payment methods — to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, which works to keep the public aware.

“I have no idea where they’re getting these numbers; they must be getting them from somewhere,” he said. “But it must be working, because these (scammers) are still doing it. So we’re out there trying to get the word out.”

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