Robocalls: The scourge of IRS scams
I’ll say this for scammers: They don’t discriminate, said Kelly Phillips Erb in Forbes.com. Whereas swindlers once had to make individual calls themselves, criminals today rely on robocalling technology to cast a wide net for victims. Last month, this tax attorney and financial journalist received no fewer than three urgent voicemails claiming to be from the IRS. All of them demanded that I call back immediately to settle my bill, or else face a lawsuit. Of course, it wasn’t true. The IRS doesn’t call about taxes owed without sending a notice first, and it never demands payment over the phone. But apparently the grift works, no matter “how ridiculous the scam sounds.” In just one outrageous example, the IRS says at least 328 people this year paid a total of $1.4 million to scammers who demanded tax payments made through iTunes gift cards.
“Like legitimate marketers, the fraudulent callers try to adapt their message to fit the season,” said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. The scam du jour for this year’s back-to-school season apparently targeted college students and their parents, demanding immediate payments for a nonexistent “federal student tax.” The calls can be especially unsettling because scammers often use “spoofing” technology to make them appear on caller ID to be coming from the actual IRS. “When the victims call back, they may be threatened with arrest, deportation, or the revocation of their driver’s licenses.”
“Resistance is not futile,” said Michelle Singletary in The Washington Post. You can report suspected scammers online to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Doing so helps authorities combat robocalls by enabling them to shut down the callback numbers provided by the would-be fraudsters. TIGTA says it has disabled nearly 800 telephone numbers linked to scammers, representing 79 percent of the numbers reported. Beyond that, the best thing you can do if you receive a suspicious call is to hang up immediately. It may be “tempting to toy with these scoundrels,” but telling scammers anything provides clues to personal information that could be exploited in other ways. In a few cases, frustrated fraudsters have even prank-called police to get SWAT teams sent to a victim’s home. “Don’t put yourself at risk.”
This much is obvious: “The ‘Do Not Call’ list isn’t working anymore,” said Mike Orcutt in TechnologyReview.com. It may stop legitimate telemarketers, but criminals don’t care about its restrictions. An industry-led “Robocall Strike Force,” headed by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, is scheduled to offer the Federal Communications Commission suggestions for preventing, detecting, and filtering unwanted robocalls next month. But many carriers, because they profit from increased traffic of any kind, have little incentive to participate in anti-spam efforts. If the number of complaints from harried customers keeps rising, “that could change.”