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Updated by 11.15.2023

Telephone Scams: How to Spot Them and What to Do Next

Telephone scams have long been a problem in the U.S. In fact, Americans lost more than $660 to such scams in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping most non-essential employees working from home, telephone scammers have even more targets on whom to prey and they love it. To help beat these scammers at their own game, E-Complish has compiled a list of common telephone scams and how to address them.

Telephone Scams: How to Spot Them…and What to Do Next

COVID-19 Scams

The newest IRS scam centers on COVID-19, as scammers want to nab Coronavirus relief funds being sent out by the U.S. government. To do so, some have begun calling consumers and posing as IRS agents who “need” a Social Security number, PayPal account credentials, or bank information as part of the “sign up” process for the funds. Other scammers claim that in return for consumers’ personal information, they will speed up the process of receiving stimulus funds, and/or that people must pay a “small fee” to receive a stimulus check. None of these claims is true. Targeted victims should hang up and report the scam to the FTC.

Other IRS Scams

In another common IRS scam, perpetrators call their victims and, posing as IRS agents, claim that their identity was stolen and used to open fake bank accounts. Then, they demand that certain gift cards be purchased in order to rectify the problem. Later, crooks get back in touch and ask for the gift card access numbers.

Criminals impersonating IRS agents also telephone consumers, stating that they are from the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement” (or some similar “agency”) and that they must pay a “lien” or “levy” on their assets by providing their bank information. They also leave recorded voicemail messages stating that victims are “in trouble” with the IRS and will be arrested if they do not return the call (which, when placed will include a demand for personal information to collect “payment”).

Similarly, in a newer scam, thieves “spoof” the telephone number of the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) in Houston, Texas, or Brooklyn, New York. The TAS is an independent organization within the IRS. Calls may be live, or robocalls that request a callback. When taxpayers answer or return the call, con artists request personal information so that they can “assist” with a tax problem.

There’s more: During tax season and through the summer months, when tax refunds are typically issued, scammers will telephone victims, stating that the “IRS” needs additional information, such as bank information, to issue the expected refund. The IRS expects that this scheme will drag on longer than usual in 2020, as the deadline to file 2019 tax returns has been extended to July 15, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s important to understand that there is no such agency as the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement”, and that the IRS is the only government agency that communicates with consumers about tax matters. Additionally, the IRS does not leave robocall messages, nor do its agents telephone individuals to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

The agency does not demand that taxes owed be paid without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount that is supposedly owed. It does not threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement to have consumers arrested for non-payment. The IRS also cannot revoke individuals’ driver’s licenses, business licenses, or immigration status.

IRS scams should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Contact the FTC about them here.

Social Security Scams

Using robocalls or live callers, fraudsters pretend to be government employees and claim that there has been identity theft or another problem with victims’ Social Security numbers, accounts, or benefits. They threaten to arrest or other legal action if their intended victims do not comply with their demands, or offer to increase Social Security benefits, protect assets, or resolve identity theft for a “fee”. In the latest Social Security telephone scam, they claim that non-compliance will lead to having victims’ Social Security numbers “turned off”. Payment is often demanded via retail gift cards, cash, wire transfer, or Internet currency, such as Bitcoin.

Impostor calls should be reported to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General online.

Fraudsters continue to become increasingly sophisticated when it comes to perpetrating telephone fraud. E-Complish urges all of its customers, and its customers’ customers, to remain vigilant about telephone scams in this time of shelter-in-place and beyond.

Amber Capece
Amber Capece
Amber comes to E-Complish with 12 years of experience in the Hospitality Industry. We are sure you are wondering how…