As tax day on April 15 approaches, local law enforcement is urging citizens to beware of phone calls from scammers threatening legal action for unpaid taxes.
Lemoore Police Department patrol Cpl. Kyle Reynolds said reports of these types of crimes typically spike between February and May.
The most common tax scam involves a criminal posing as an Internal Revenue Service agent calling to tell the victim that they owe money to the IRS. They threaten the victim with police arrest, deportation or other punishment if they don’t pay.
“They think, ‘I don’t want to get arrested, so here’s my Social Security number,’ or whatever money they’re asking for,” Reynolds said.
Scammers often ask for payment via Western Union wire transfers, prepaid debit cards or by requesting the victim’s bank information and withdrawing the funds directly.
Hanford police Capt. Karl Anderson said the scammers will typically give the victim several payment options. Those might include a request to pay off the debt in full, or an offer to settle their debt for a smaller amount.
“They usually try to scare you with the larger amount,” Anderson said.
Unlike more serious offenses like tax fraud and tax evasion, Anderson said, simply failing to pay your taxes will not get you thrown in jail.
Anderson said a woman called the Hanford Police Department earlier this month terrified that she was going to be put in jail after she received such a phone call. Hanford police Chief Parker Sever gave the woman his contact information and told her to inform the scammers that he would pay her taxes. The scammers stopped calling.
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The IRS issued a consumer alert last month warning against a new variation of the classic scam, in which scammers call victims and pretend to verify tax returns over the phone. Scam artists call victims claiming to need additional information to process their tax returns. This information can include Social Security numbers, bank numbers or credit card information.
“The bottom line is the IRS will never call you to collect money,” Anderson said.
In a statement released earlier this year, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen warned taxpayers not to be fooled.
“We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us,” Koskinen said.
Besides the fact that the IRS will not call you unexpectedly, Reynolds said, tax laws are enforced by the federal government. That means that even if you do commit tax fraud, local police will not be the ones to arrest you.
Reynolds said mail theft also tends to increase around this time of year as citizens wait for tax refund checks. He reminded citizens to be vigilant.
“If you’re expecting a refund in the mail, try to check your mailbox as often as you can,” Reynolds said.
Despite the growing prevalence of computers IRS tax scams remain heavily telephone-based. Anderson said tax scams are “equal opportunity” crimes, affecting victims of all ages.
Unfortunately, Reynolds said, seniors tend to be the most susceptible to phone scams.