IRS scam most common in state

If someone is convinced that the Internal Revenue Service is coming after them, it can be intimidating.

With less than a month before the end of the year, the IRS imposter scam is likely to emerge as Indiana’s most frequent telephone privacy complaint of 2015, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said. Phone scams offering credit services and tech support services are the second- and third-most-common complaints this year, according to the attorney general’s office.

In the IRS scam, a caller demands payment of past-due taxes and threatens arrest and jail time if the money is not received immediately.

Some people have realized the call is a scam when the caller requests that the money be paid back through the purchase of prepaid cards. But when an IRS or police department phone number appears on the caller ID, it’s easy to be frightened into falling victim to a scam artist, Zoeller said.

Bartholomew County residents are among those who have filed about 1,300 complaints on the IRS imposter scam, state officials say.

By the end of October, an estimated 3,000 Americans nationwide had fallen victim to the scam, collectively losing more than $14 million, the IRS reported.

“Sadly, a few people in Columbus have fallen for this scam,” Columbus Police Department spokesman Sgt. Matt Harris said. “Some of them have been elderly.”

Many are unaware that the con artists now have the technology to make it appear that a police or government agency phone number is calling you, Harris said.

The Internal Revenue Service will not make a phone call to attempt to collect back taxes, Zoeller said.

Anyone receiving a call like this should immediately hang up.

“Additionally, the IRS will never ask you for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the phone,” the attorney general said.

With Caller ID spoofing and other deceptive tactics, it is easy for fraudsters to convince people they are someone legitimate, Zoeller said.

Nearly every week, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department receives a few calls regarding illegal phone solicitations, spokeswoman Judy Jackson said.

“The IRS scam is one of the scams we get the most calls on,” Jackson said.

Columbus police encourage anyone who receives any unsolicited phone call where an unknown person asks for personal information such as a Social Security number or account number to end the phone call immediately.

“Confirm the correct phone number for the business in question and then call back to confirm that you were not talking to a scammer,” Harris said.

The best way for Hoosiers to know whether a call they are receiving is a scam is by registering their number on the Do Not Call list, Zoeller said.

“Legitimate companies will not call numbers on the Do Not Call list, so if someone is on the list and is receiving unsolicited contact, it is likely a scam,” Zoeller said.

The best protection against phone scams is simply not do any type of business or give out personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call yourself, he said.

Call-blocking resoures

Hoosiers are being urged to take advantage of available call-blocking options to help stop scam calls.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has created a non-exhaustive, call-blocking reference sheet to inform the public about available options and encourage development of new options.

This reference sheet outlines different call-blocking applications and information about each option, including who is able to use it, the cost, benefits, weaknesses and how to get it.

Another option is to sign up or to confirm a number is on the Do Not Call list. Once on the list, you do not need to re-register unless your address changes.

People who receive an unwanted call or are targeted by a phone scam can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

For additional information on any of these programs, visit IndianaConsumer.com or call 1-800-382-5516.

Source: Office of the Indiana Attorney General

Tips to avoid being scammed

Here are some tips to avoid being scammed over the telephone:

  • Don’t let a telephone solicitor pressure you to make an immediate decision.
  • Ask for a caller’s contact information and tell them you will call them back. Verify that the number they give you is tied to a legitimate company or agency by doing your own research.
  • Know that most government entities, including the IRS, will not initiate contact over the phone. Additionally, they will never ask you for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the phone.
  • Do not wire any money or make payments over the phone unless you have independently verified the caller.
  • Check unfamiliar companies with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau before agreeing to a purchase.
  • Hang up on recorded message calls or “robocalls.” Don’t press any numbers.

Source: Office of the Indiana Attorney General

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.