In response to a recent increase in consumer complaints, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is alerting residents to a renewed phone scam in which callers pose as Internal Revenue Service officials in an attempt to scare people into sending money to pay for allegedly unpaid taxes.
Madigan’s office is seeing an increase in these complaints, in particular from older people. Consumers report being contacted by scammers pretending to be IRS officials who leave threatening messages that include a number for consumers to call to avoid lawsuits or prosecution.
Scammers also “spoof” phone numbers, causing caller ID devices to display what appears to be a legitimate call from the IRS, with identifiers such as “IRS” or the (202) area code for Washington, D.C. The scam artists claim they are representatives of the federal government collecting on unpaid taxes and leave threatening messages or instruct their targets to make a payment to them through a prepaid debit card.
“It is critical to know that the IRS does not call and tell people they are under investigation or that they owe money,” Madigan said. “If you receive a call like this, even if your caller ID shows what appears to be a legitimate name or number, hang up immediately.”
Madigan also encouraged consumers to report the call by contacting the IRS or the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) website (www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft) or by calling (800) 366-4484. She also urged Illinois residents to report the scam to her Consumer Fraud Bureau at (800) 386-5438 (Chicago), (800) 243-0618 (Springfield), (800) 243-0607 (Carbondale) or (866) 310-8398 (Spanish), or by visiting her website. The attorney general also provides a Senior Citizens Consumer Fraud Hotline: (800) 243-5377.
With tax season under way, Madigan said consumers should also be aware of an increasing number of reports of tax-related identity theft. Since 2013, tax identity theft complaints to Madigan’s office have risen by more than 320 percent — from 138 complaints in 2013 to 582 complaints in 2015. Consumers reported that when they attempted to file their tax return, a return was already filed in their names using their Social Security number, and a tax refund was issued. Other consumers reported that their dependents had already been claimed on another return.
Madigan said the No. 1 step consumers can take to combat tax-related identity theft is to file their returns as soon as possible. Madigan offered additional tips for consumers to avoid becoming the victim of tax-related identity theft:
- The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers to request personal or financial information through any form of electronic communication, including email, text messages and social media channels;
- Do not open or reply to any emails claiming to be from the IRS that contain a request for personal information;
- Request a call-back number and employee badge number from anyone claiming to be an IRS agent so that you may independently confirm the phone number and agent;
- Report any suspicious IRS electronic correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Report any IRS telephone impersonation scams or suspicious IRS paper mail or fax correspondence to the TIGTA hotline at (800) 366-4484; and
- Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490 or visit the IRS’ website to report tax-related identity theft: www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft.
Consumers can also contact Madigan’s Identity Theft Hotline at (866) 999-5630 for tax-related identity theft assistance. The hotline is staffed with identity theft experts who can assist with all forms of identity theft by helping victims report the crime to local law enforcement and financial institutions, work to repair their credit and prevent future theft. Hotline operators can also assist callers who want to take proactive steps to prevent their personal information from being stolen.