Reminder: Calls purporting to be from the IRS demanding a payment are a scam

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Attorney General’s Office has noticed a recent increase in the number of Mainers calling to report they are the target of phone scams in which someone pretends to be calling to collect a debt owed to the Internal Revenue Service. Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills is reminding people to be aware that these are scams and no one should give people credit card information or wire money.

“The IRS scam and others like it are consistently the top complaint we receive,” said Attorney General Mills. “However, we have noticed a recent spike in the number of people calling our office to alert us and to complain specifically about IRS scams. These are often randomly dialed calls, but for some reason the 207 area code seems to be their target in recent days. People should not engage the callers and hang up the phone. Do not give them personal information and do not wire them money.”

Here’s how they work: Scammers posing as IRS officials call and say you owe taxes. They threaten to arrest you, or deport you, or revoke your license, or even shut down your business if you don’t pay right away. They may know your Social Security number — or at least the last four digits of it — making you think it really is the IRS calling. They also can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC.

You are then instructed to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the number — something no government agency would ask you to do. Once you do it, they may call you back and demand more payments until you find out it was a scam, and then your money is gone.

“No governmental agency or legitimate business will call you up and demand an immediate payment by credit card or by a pre-paid debit card you find in a convenience store,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “If you receive one of these calls, do not answer any of their questions. Hang up the phone immediately.”

If you owe — or think you owe — federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail, not by phone.

One Maine resident recorded his interaction with a scammer claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service and posted it to YouTube. The call illustrates several tactics used by phone scammers. They claimed to be from an entity that the target is familiar with and who he has the potential to owe money to – we all have to deal with the IRS at some point. When challenged about his authenticity, the scammer tried to reassure the target by giving a badge number in order to sound official. And finally, the payment could only be made by “Green Dot Money Pak,” available at places like WalMart or drug store chains, and not by other means. The scammers are also not easily dissuaded; different people called repeatedly making the same claims in order to make him think they were legitimate.