TIGTA big shot, Timothy Camus, recently testified before the US Senate Finance Committee on the topic of “Tax Schemes and Scams.” By TIGTA, I of course mean the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. And by “big shot,” I of course mean that he is the Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, and he wears a nice looking mustache, and he tells tax criminals that their day will come.
According to his testimony, IRS phone impersonation scams have quickly become one of TIGTA’s top concerns. The agency had received only scattered reports of phone scams prior to the summer of 2013. TIGTA started to track this crime in October 2013, and ever since then has kept statistics and concentrated efforts on eradicating this terrible, frustrating crime.
The way it works is the scammers call and threaten you with criminal penalties if you don’t pay a certain sum to address a tax problem that usually doesn’t even exist. The victim is asked to load money onto a prepaid debit card and then call back with the card number. These criminals used to target primarily the elderly or recent immigrants; the most vulnerable people who do not have sufficient command of the English language and/or those who do not have an understanding of the US tax system. But Camus says that they have not been discriminating much lately. He describes having received a call himself, at home, the weekend before his speech, and he told the guy, “your day will come.” I have received phone scam calls too, most recently a very generic sounding recording using robo-call technology.
Here are some of the key phone scam statistics from Camus’ Senate testimony:
- TIGTA has received over 366,000 complaints of phone scam calls (9,000 – 12,000 per week)
- 3,052 victims paid out about $15.5 million
- one poor fool paid over $500,000
- 296 of these victims gave more than just money (i.e., social security number or other sensitive identifying information)
Camus says that this scam is the subject of an “ongoing multi-agency investigation.” Let’s hope they figure out how to catch these guys because the IRS public service messages about how to avoid phone scams aren’t working as effectively as they should.