IRS Scam: Beware of bogus calls from IRS impersonators

Tax season is here, which also means it's prime time for tax scams.

KTVU's Pam Cook reports on a warning from the Internal Revenue Service, about bogus phone calls from IRS impersonators.

The phone call involves someone who claims to be from the IRS. A KTVU employee and a viewer received messages left on their answering machines.

"We have been trying to reach you. This call is an official final call from Internal Revenue Services." The message goes on to say, they have an outstanding tax bill, and threatening them with a lawsuit.

"The reason for the call is to inform you that a lawsuit has been filed."

While our viewer and KTVU employee did not fall for it, a businesswoman in Florida did.

"I had a chill through my bones. I was shaking. I couldn't think straight."

She did not want us to show her face, or use her name, but wanted to share her story as a warning so other people don't have to go through her painful, and expensive experience.

"I could not believe somebody could do this to another human being."

She was told to settle her tax bill with prepaid cards.

Her husband recently died, and since he did the taxes, she thought he must have made a mistake, and she paid $50,000, before police got involved.

"Police told me it was a scam, i was shaking and crying."

The Treasury Inspector General has received thousands of reports from victims of the IRS tax scam, and $30 million in losses, in the last two years alone, $6 million paid by Californians.

"It's that fear factor, when you get that call and people are saying if you don't pay up right away, you're going to go to jail, or worse, that's scary for people," said Jarrod Wise, California Better Business Bureau.

"Elderly gets targeted with different types of scams, and they do target people who are from other countries because they may not be familiar with the law or there's a language barrier, so they're not really sure," said Sgt. Olga Cortizo, Seminole County Sheriff's Office, Florida.

The scam is not new, but it could become even more prevalent, and harder to detect.

That's because congress is working with the IRS, to allow third party debt collectors to take over, starting in March, when taxpayers really do have an outstanding tax bill.

"We're definitely watching this one for sure," said Wise.

"One of the biggest things we tell people is that if they get a call from the IRS or someone claiming to be the IRS, to just hang up right away. That's what we tell people right now because the IRS will not call you right now and say you have an outstanding tax balance, they will send you a certified letter."

Pam Cook spoke to a state representative from the IRS who says the agency will still send a certified letter, even if it's working with a third party debt collector.

And, according to the agency it is illegal to threaten someone with a lawsuit or jail time, when trying to collect a debt.

"That's a red flag right there, whether its a third party debt collector or not no one's going to call you and say they're going to arrest you right away, so if you get that call, hang up," said Wise.

Consumer advocates also suggest taking down the information, and doing the research; check with the i-r-s yourself, to see if you do have an outstanding tax bill, and if the agency or a legitimate debt collector is trying to reach you.

Go to the web links section at the top of the page, for more information on how to report a possible scam to the IRS.