Threatening 'IRS' calls, emails are scams, officials warn

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As the April 15 tax filing deadline approaches, federal and local officials are warning taxpayers to beware of telephone calls and emails purportedly from the Internal Revenue Service demanding money or threatening arrest or audits.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said her staff is looking into reports of an unspecified number of telephone calls to Nassau County residents from a Washington, D.C.-area number in which the caller claims to be an IRS agent and demands immediate payment and threatens an audit.

The IRS, on its website, says such calls also sometimes threaten driver's license revocation and sometimes are followed up with calls from people claiming to be police or the state motor vehicle department. The agency says some scam artists "spoof" or imitate the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make the call appear legitimate. Callers often demand payment through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer.

Retired insurance agent Basant Kohli, 86, of South Hempstead, said he received a call of that nature March 9 from a man claiming to represent the IRS and saying Kohli owed $2,900.86 from 2006. "They said 'If you don't pay it, we'll send the police to arrest you.' " Frightened, Kohli was about to send money, then suspected a scam. His son called police, who took a report, Kohli said.

In December and January, Rice said, scam artists also sent emails to county residents threatening arrest or audit if payments were not made.

Rice said the IRS never makes such demands via email, text messages or social media.

The IRS also warns of "phishing" scams during tax season, in which unsolicited emails that appear to be from the IRS and are linked to fraudulent websites seek personal and financial information. The IRS says it never asks for personal information via email.

Rice also cautioned taxpayers to retain hard copies of tax returns, never sign a blank return, and check returns for additional dependents, deductions, and business expenses that are unfamiliar.

"Unscrupulous tax preparers often get a larger refund by adding false dependents, business expenses, etc.," said Rice. "If such a return has been filed in your name, you should report it to the taxing authorities and amend your return immediately."

Rice and the IRS also caution taxpayers that criminals sometimes use identities of legitimate taxpayers to file false returns and obtain refunds in those taxpayers' names.

The fake returns often contain false income, dependent and deductions information that will generate a larger refund, and usually contain an address controlled by the scammer to receive the ill-gotten refund. The IRS urges taxpayers who think they're at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information to call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. Rice issued the warning in a statement and on her office's Twitter feed, @NassauDA, while the Internal Revenue Service has a website page discussing fraud at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Releases-the-%E2%80%9CDirty-Dozen%E2%80%9D-Tax-Scams-for-2014;-Identity-Theft,-Phone-Scams-Lead-List.

Rice urges Nassau residents who think they've been targeted by a tax scheme to call her Criminal Complaint Unit at 516-571-3505 to file a complaint.

Suffolk residents can call the county district attorney's office economic crime bureau intake line at 631-853-5602.

The IRS urges taxpayers to report apparently bogus telephone calls to the Treasury inspector general for tax administration at 800-366-4484.

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