Scammers are still targeting taxpayers. Nearly 6,400 victims have collectively paid over $36.5 million to scammers posing as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials since October of 2013. Over that same time period, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 1.2 million calls made to taxpayers demanding that they send cash to resolve outstanding tax liabilities. The average amount of money lost in the scam is $5,700.
Today, J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), announced the arrests of five individuals made in what has been characterized as an “ongoing investigation” into the scams. The five individuals were arrested in Miami, FL, without incident, and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. According to the court documents, the five suspects are responsible for almost $2 million in schemes that defrauded more than 1,500 victims.
The five individuals are Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Roberto Fontanella Caballero. The criminal complaints were filed with the following courts: the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on May 18, 2016 (Yaritza Diaz and Roberto Caballero); the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on May 16, 2016 (Arnoldo Mirabal); and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on May 10, 2016 (Jennifer Nunez and Dennis Caballero).
According to U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, two of the individuals who were arrested were identified as a direct result of information provided by a fraud investigator with the Aging Committee’s Hotline. That investigator followed up on an incident report filed by a victim in October 2015. The victim had been ordered to wire money to a scammer posing as an IRS agent. The wire transfer was eventually traced to Minnesota and reported to TIGTA. TIGTA then sent agents to Minnesota, who pulled surveillance tapes and identified two suspects: the investigation led them to the three additional suspects.
“Putting a stop to aggressive and ruthless scams such as the IRS impersonation scam is among my highest priorities as Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee,” said Senator Susan Collins. “Thanks to the quick actions of the investigators who staff our Fraud Hotline, the Inspector General has made significant arrests in the fight against a pernicious scam. These actions should also put criminals on notice that we will relentlessly pursue those who seek to rob seniors of their hard-earned savings.”
As part of the typical IRS impersonation scheme, the scammers make phone calls alleging to be from IRS or Department of Treasury. Calls are often made using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology since it’s a cheap and easy way to mask the origin of the calls and “trick” your Caller ID to show up as the IRS or other agency. The scammers then advise taxpayers that, due to adjustments made on their individual tax accounts, additional tax is owed to IRS. The scammers demand immediate payment over the phone by cash, wire or services like MoneyGram and Walmart-2-Walmart.
In a more recent variation of the scam, the scammers demanded payment in iTunes gift cards. iTunes gift cards can be used to make purchases on the App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, Mac App Store or to buy Apple Music memberships. Requests for payment on the cards – though it sounds outlandish – were successful: according to TIGTA, at least 328 people paid out a total of $1.4 million to the scammers using iTunes gift cards.
Timothy Camus, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, called the scheme “the most pervasive impersonation scheme in the 17-year history of TIGTA.”
The investigation remains ongoing. Last year, J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, assured taxpayers that his office was actively pursuing those involved in the fraud, reassuring taxpayers, “[W]e will not rest until all individuals associated with this fraud have been brought to justice.”
Remember that the IRS has previously confirmed they will not:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
- Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or email.
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
If you receive such a call and do not owe tax, don’t engage with the scammer and do not give out any information. Just hang up.
If you get an email asking you to visit a website or answer personal questions, do not reply and do not click on any links in the email.
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, and you owe tax or think you may owe tax, do not give out any information. Call the IRS back at 1.800.829.1040 to find out more information.
You can also contact TIGTA to report scam calls by calling 1.800.366.4484 or by using the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” form on their website. You may also want to report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission by using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report persons pretending to be from the government; please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Don’t fall for the tricks. Keep your personal information safe this tax season by remaining alert. For tips on protecting yourself from identity theft-related tax fraud, click here.
(Please note that the story has been updated with additional information provided by Sen. Collins and the Senate Aging Committee.)