SALT LAKE CITY — With Tax Day just days away, many Utahns are concerned about potentially running afoul of the IRS. That anxiety can be motivation for criminals looking to take advantage of unsuspecting victims in their most vulnerable state.
The state Division of Consumer Protection reported Wednesday that Utahns are receiving unsolicited phone calls by con artists claiming to be with the IRS threatening lawsuits, arrest warrants, fines and other punishments if their requests are not met immediately.
The calls have been so convincing that some unwitting recipients have capitulated and turned over thousands of dollars — money they may never recover, explained Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce.
“It is disturbing that four Utah victims have lost $18,379 to these scams since New Year’s Day,” she said. “Remember, the Internal Revenue Service will never call and threaten you over the phone. Hang up and contact the IRS yourself if you have valid concerns.”
Having received three such calls at her own home, Giani warned Utahns that whatever the fraud scenario, the IRS would never call on the phone regarding a personal tax matter.
“Don’t fall prey to this scam,” she said.
According to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, between October 2013 and January 2016, 57 Utahns lost a total of $431,782 to fake IRS calls. The public is advised to remain alert as many of these calls continue long after tax filing is over, explained Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.
“IRS scam calls are no longer limited to tax season,” he said. “Fraudsters have found a hot button to bilk money from law-abiding citizens year-round so please remain vigilant when the phone rings with an empty threat.“
The IRS reported that other states have also suffered severe financial losses, with California, New York and Texas topping the list. Since October 2013, more than 1,000 California residents have lost $6.4 million; in New York, 534 people have lost $2.4 million, and 444 Texans reported losing nearly $2 million to fraudsters.
Utah’s losses put the Beehive State at No. 20 nationwide for IRS scams.
Previous local scam reports included callers claiming that consumers had an IRS refund coming to them. The criminals used that ruse to gain access to personal bank account information, Giani said. Spanish-speaking residents have also been threatened over the phone with deportation if they don’t respond, all of which was bogus, she noted.
“(These scams are) not going away,” Giani said.
The IRS reminds the public that its employees do not use unsolicited emails, text messages or any social media to discuss personal tax issues.
For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.
For more information about the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, visit www.consumerprotection.utah.gov.
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Warning signs for tax scams
Below are five actions the IRS would never employ when contacting a person about their taxes.
• Calling taxpayers regarding owed taxes without first mailing an official notice.
• Demanding payment without giving the opportunity to question or appeal the amount the IRS claimed is owed.
• Requiring a specific payment method for taxes, such as a prepaid debit card or sending money via wire transfer.
• Asking for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
• Threatening to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have a taxpayer arrested for nonpayment.
Source: Utah Division of Consumer Protection
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Steps for dealing with scammers
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here are steps you can take:
• If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers 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 at 800-366-4484 or www.tigta.gov.
• You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS telephone scam” in the notes.