IRS scammers target islanders

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, an Internal Revenue Service agent called Leah McConnell, demanding she pay back taxes, immediately, or be arrested. McConnell knew better.

“I hung up, which is what I did last year too,” said the Friday Harbor resident, who received several phone calls from the same number in 2016.

The caller wasn’t an IRS agent, but one of the roughly 896,000 phone contacts the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received reports on since 2013. Callers using fake names and badge numbers aggressively ask victims to transfer their unpaid taxes, usually by wire or a pre-loadable debit card. Lack of cooperation leads to threats of arrest and sometimes deportation.

Identifying a fake IRS call is easy, said San Juan County Undersheriff Brent Johnson.

“The IRS never calls,” said Johnson. “They only send letters.”

That means no emails or text messages either. According to the IRS, emails scams increased about 400 percent in 2016. More than 5,000 victims have reported IRS scams to the TIGTA since 2013 and have collectively lost approximately $26.5 million.

Certified federal income tax expert Jim McAdam, of Island Tax Service in Friday Harbor, said the newest scam targets companies’ human resource departments, requesting employees’ W2 information so scammers can file a return under employees’ names to collect their refunds.

Anyone, said McAdam, could be a target.

“They call at random — single people with only one W2, couples, young, old — they don’t discriminate,” he said.

According to www.irs.gov, IRS officials will never:

  • Call to demand payment, they only mail letters.
  • Threaten to send local law-enforcement agencies.
  • Demand payment without allowing time to appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

“The IRS doesn’t need to ask for your information, like your social security number,” said Johnson. “They already have it.”

McConnell followed local and federal agencies’ protocol to handle phone IRS scams.

“Just hang up and report them,” she said.

To report scam calls, contact:

If you think you owe additional taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040.