Published: 3:06 pm, Thu. Feb. 23rd, 2017Updated: 3:05 pm
U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez and Ismael Nevarez Jr., special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation in New Mexico and Arizona, held a press conference this week to highlight schemes to steal taxpayers’ personal information and scam them out of their hard-earned money.
They were joined by Chief Gorden E. Eden Jr., of the Albuquerque Police Department and Undersheriff Greg Rees of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, whose agencies support the IRS’ efforts to combat these fraudulent schemes and educate taxpayers on how to avoid falling victim to con artists.
During the press conference, the federal and local officials discussed the three most common tax scams – phone scams, phishing and email scams, and identity theft – that taxpayers need to guard against:
• Phone Scams: Scams involving phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents continue to be an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge in phone scams, which have become increasingly aggressive and threatening, with con artists threatening taxpayers with arrest, deportation and license revocation. Scammers often demand money from victims to pay bogus tax bills and con the victims into sending cash, usually through wire transfers, or prepaid debit cards and gift cards.
The IRS does not call taxpayers who owe taxes; it generally will mail bills to those taxpayers.
• Phishing/Email Scams: Scams involving fake emails and websites that appear to be from the IRS and are used to steal personal information. Criminals use fake emails and websites that appear legitimate but contain phony login pages in the hope that victims will provide money, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that can be used to engage in identity theft.
Scam emails can also be used to infect a taxpayer’s computer with malware that gives criminals access to the device, enabling them to access sensitive files. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers by email about a bill or refund. Taxpayers should not click on an email claiming to be from the IRS.
• Identity Theft: Tax-related identity theft occurs when a criminal uses a stolen Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.
Undoing the damage caused by identity thieves is frustrating and complicated for victims, who often learn from the IRS that their identities have been stolen and misused. Identity thieves often use personal and financial information obtained through phone scams and phishing scams.
Although taxpayers encounter these fraudulent schemes throughout the year, scamming activity often peaks during tax-filing season, and taxpayers need to be constantly on their guard against these ploys, which continue to evolve and become increasingly sophisticated.
The harm to which taxpayers are exposed is illustrated by the losses suffered by victims of phone scams. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports that between October 2013 and Jan. 3, more than 100,000 known victims have collectively paid more than $54 million as a result of phone scams. This includes 58 known victims in New Mexico who lost a total of $172,167. These numbers, however, do not include individuals who have not reported their victimization because they are embarrassed about falling for scams; they do not know that they have been victimized; or they fail to report because they have no expectation of getting their money back.
“We want to put New Mexicans on notice about the types of tax scams out there so they can take measures to protect themselves,” said Martinez. “We also want to put these unscrupulous scammers on notice that what they are doing is criminal and we will make every effort to prosecute them and hold them accountable.”
“Don’t be fooled by phone calls or emails by criminals impersonating IRS agents with threats or promises of a big refund if you provide them with your private information,” said Nevarez. “If you are surprised to get a call or email from the IRS, it almost certainly is not the real IRS. It is almost certainly a scam. The IRS generally contacts taxpayers by mail.”
Taxpayers can report tax-related schemes, scams, identity theft and fraud by contacting the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.treasury.gov/tigta or 800-366-4484. Additional information about tax scams is available at IRS.gov and on IRS social media sites.