Imagine if this happened to you. Joe Avery of South Bend, Indiana listened to the voicemail message the man left for him several times. A federal agent was letting him know that he was about to be named in a federal lawsuit and that sheriff's deputies were on their way to arrest him for five criminal allegations.
The serious-sounding agent ended the call with the following warning: "If you don't return the call, then the only thing I can do is. . . wish you good luck."
Avery should have been scared, except for one thing: he's a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen. He's also savvy enough to know when he's being scammed.
The call was a total fake. But thousands of people do not know and give in to the scammer's demands.
Phone scams that center around the IRS are nothing new, but they typically occur much earlier in the year, around tax season. And what sets this particular scam apart from the rest is the threatening tone that is used.
People who receive these calls are led to believe they'll be penalized, even imprisoned, if they don't satisfy the caller's demands.
Threatening calls from legitimate-sounding government organizations are on the rise. The goal of the caller is to catch you off-guard with a serious allegation.
Claiming to work for the IRS is an easy way for scammers to trick you into believing you could be hauled off to jail, or ruined financially for committing tax fraud. After all, it's easy to be afraid of the IRS.
What makes these scams difficult to detect is that the caller often knows personal details about you, such as your full name, address and sometimes even your social security number - information that was likely obtained through illegal means, such as a data breach.
The Federal Trade Commission reminds us that government agencies will never call you with such serious allegations. If you get a threatening call from the U.S. Treasury Department, the Justice Department or specifically the IRS you should hang up and notify authorities.
The IRS never calls people without first sending a notification through the U.S. Postal Service. And they always provide people with a chance to question or appeal the amount the department says is owed.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with a potential phone scam:
- Never give out personal information to someone who calls you.
- Write down the caller's name and phone number and record the date and time of the call.
- Hang up. Do not call the person back. If it's a robocall, do not press a button to speak to an operator or to remove yourself from a call list.
- Report the experience to the FTC at 877-382-4357 or here on the web: Federal Trade Commission Consumer Complaints.
- Block calls. Click here for free ways to block robocalls, illegal calls and spam calls.
This is important. Be sure to share this security alert with your family and friends. While you're knowledgeable, others may fall for this quickly spreading scam!