The Huntsville Police Department is warning the public about a recent uptick in scam calls from the IRS and so called ‘grandparent scams,’ which fraudulently request bail money.
As Tax Day gets closer, IRS scam calls increase. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, scammers attempt at least $12.2 billion of identity theft-related tax fraud each year, and Huntsville has not been immune.
“When we get closer to Tax Day, we often see an increase in scams, but it has really picked up this year,” HPD Lt. Jim Barnes said. “We are seeing these types of scams locally on a near daily basis. It is important to know that the IRS will never call you to ask for money.”
Tactics that have been reported show that scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers to identify themselves, and may know the last four digits of the taxpayer’s social security number. In order to trick victims, scammers can make the phone number appear as if the IRS or another local law enforcement agency is calling. Scammers may also threaten victims with jail time or with driver’s license or other professional license revocation.
“Oftentimes these scammers will use background noise to mimic the sound of a call site and even answer as if they are from an agency,” Barnes added. “With our technology becoming more advanced, it is much easier to make mass calls and trick consumers into thinking they owe money. It is important to note that the IRS or other agencies would never threaten to arrest you or make these calls in the first place.”
The IRS is reminding the public that it will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer and will generally mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. The agency will also never threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying. They will not demand that taxes be paid without giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or call about an unexpected refund.
“The IRS would never ask you to send them money from a prepaid card or anything of the like. That is a clear sign of a scam,” Barnes said. “The scary part of these scams is the fact that they can steal your money from anywhere in the world by asking for the card number.”
A new type of scam has also been seen locally, the ‘Grandparent scam,’ where a victim is told that a family member has been arrested for DUI or other charges after an accident in which a victim has been injured. The caller will then pretend to transfer the father to a public defender who claimed he could post an ‘attorney bond.’ The victim is then instructed to go to a pharmacy and purchase a gift card or money gram to transmit cash to the callers over the phone.
“This new scam has become very popular and has been occurring a lot locally,” Barnes added. “The police would not call you to tell you that your loved one is in jail, the arrested person would call you directly. We also would not have you pay bail over the phone, you would come to the jail to coordinate that.”
According to Barnes, these scams have become very elaborate and some over email may include actual logos from government agencies or businesses. These crimes are also very hard to stop or prosecute, because many of the scammers are from countries such as Pakistan, India, Jamaica and Russia. However, the scammers can be in the US and will regularly use ‘burner phones’ or prepaid phones, which make it almost impossible to trace.
“Whether it is a phone call or a suspicious email, one of the best ways to determine whether you are being scammed is to listen for an accent and the way the person speaks,” Barnes said. “This is very easy to pick-up on in writing because they will phrase things in a way a non-english speaker would not. I just caution the public to be extra vigilant right now.”
If you have received a suspicious call, contact HPD at 936-295-5407. The IRS also asks victims to report the calls to 800-829-1040.