CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- April 15th, or tax day, already scares some people but this tax season there's another new concern. The Internal Revenue Service warned recently that thousands of taxpayers have gotten bilked in a phone scam by criminals masquerading as tax agents. And the concern is more people will fall victim as April 15th draws near.
But one Cedar Rapids woman has a word of warning. Scammers are making those calls to eastern Iowa as well.
IRS officials said the latest phone scam involves a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent and demanding immediate payment to settle a tax bill. If the caller leaves a voice message, the call back number has a (202) area code that corresponds to Washington, D.C. Those who get the initial call, or call back, are threatened with arrest if they don't settle their tax claims.
Tamara Karamitros said she got a special shock when she played back a voice mail Thursday. It was the scam call with the message saying, in part, "...if you are unable to get back to us, I'm sorry be we will have to process legal action against you."
Karamitros said she did call back and was told unless she paid $1,048 dollars to settle her bill, she would be arrested.
"It was pure fear and intimidation. They told me that if I did not resolve this tax penalty today that I would be facing $25,000 to $30,000 in legal fees and three to four years in prison," Karamitros said.
She said the bogus IRS agent asked for a cell phone number and told her to get in the car and drive to a nearby store to purchase a pre-paid money card to settle the tax debt. Karamitros said she went, but started getting suspicious. When she got to the store, the with fake IRS agent still on her cell phone line, she asked one of the workers selling the debit cards if this sounded legitimate.
Karamitros said the worker immediately grabbed her cell phone.
"She at that point talked to the gentleman on the phone and said 'this is a scam' and then we hung up."
Barbara Green, who runs the Better Business Bureau office in Cedar Rapids, said she's heard of the IRS scam nationally. And she recently got a call from someone who had a similar message on their voice mail.
"I did call the number (left on voice mail) and I asked for the name and physical address. Of course, they hung up on me," Green said.
Green said while the (202) area code suggested a call to Washington, D.C. she suspects the scammers are actually routing calls to another country to avoid detection.
Karamitros said she did some computer searching after her near-miss scamming. She quickly found details about the scheme which may have involved as many as 20,000 victims nationwide.
The IRS says complaints about the bogus tax agent calls began coming in last fall. But tax officials fear the calls will intensify as the tax deadline approaches. Anyone who wants to check on whether they owe any taxes can call 1-800-829-1040 to find out. Those who fear they've been targeted by scammers can call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration office at 1-800-366-4484. It's also possible to file a fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by e-mail at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Green said if the IRS needs to contact taxpayers, there is always a letter sent first. And the IRS never insists you wire money or use a debit card or pre-paid money card to make tax payments.