Columbus police are checking into a telephone scam in which a caller claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service demanding payment for delinquent tax bills.
On Tuesday, several area residents visited the Columbus IRS office and called The Republic to report receiving the calls and demands for personal information and money.
Betty Bates of Columbus said someone called her home from the 202 area code, which is Washington, D.C., at 9:22 a.m. Tuesday claiming she owed back taxes.
The individual repeatedly told her to “shut up and don’t say anything” until he finished telling her she could be arrested, her savings and checking accounts could be drained and a lien could be put on her house.
Bates said she could hear other people in the background saying the same thing to other people who had been called.
When the individual said she could talk, Bates told him she didn’t owe any taxes and she believed it was a scam.
Bates then reported the incident to the IRS, the Columbus Police Department and the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which handles fraud complaints involving the IRS.
Bates said she was particularly worried about elderly people who might not know this was a scam and would believe the caller.
Police are advising anyone who receives this type of call to not reveal any personal information and immediately hang up.
The scam has had nationwide reach and has been active since early in the tax filing season this year, according to information and warnings posted on the IRS website.
“This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen,” J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, said in a statement.
The IRS has received reports of “particularly aggressive” behavior from the scammers who are “frequently insulting or hostile.”
Scammers using the false IRS identification have been known to use different strategies to lure potential victims if the first attempt is unsuccessful — including telling people they are entitled to large refunds and they need to supply personal information to receive them.
Potential victims also may receive suspicious emails and electronic communication from a source claiming to be the IRS and requesting personal information. The IRS warns individuals not to open the messages — don’t follow the links or open any attachments they might include. The IRS asks that the messages be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The IRS normally alerts a taxpayer about owed taxes by mail, not over the phone or through electronic messaging, according to its website. The IRS will not request payments from a prepaid debit card or wire transfer or ask for credit card information over the phone, the IRS said in a news release about the scam.
“If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling,” George said.