“The scam will not stop until people start going to jail.” — Senator Collins
Today marks the end of tax time for most filers, but it’s just the beginning of tax scammer season, and you’re the prey. All they need is your phone number or email address to set the fraud in motion.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, has had it with the U.S. Department of Justice not acting to protect taxpayers. Today she convenes a hearing on the subject, and intends to grill department officials over their history of inaction.
Last month, CBS News told the story of North Carolina Pastor Al Cadenhead, who fell victim to an IRS agent impersonator who scammed him out of $16,000 in the space of a few hours. The imposter reached Cadenhead through his cell phone and threatened him with arrest for, you guessed it — tax fraud. The pastor was told that the IRS was going to freeze his accounts and put a lien on his house. The caller I.D. was rigged to show a 202 area code to appear as if generated from Washington, D.C.
While it may seem obvious to an observer that this was clearly a scam, and some may be tempted to blame the victim, in the moment Cadenhead panicked, and only later that day did realization sink in.
“My heart was racing. It was racing. I am very afraid at that point…I don’t want to cause embarrassment to my family, to my church. I’m retiring in a few months. This is not how I want to be remembered, being arrested.”
Collins saw the CBS report and asked Cadenhead to testify at today’s hearing. The particular scam he fell for is widespread, with at least 10,000 targeted each week, and 400,000 people having reported receiving a similar call. Over 3,000 taxpayers have fallen prey to the scheme to the tune of $15.5 million. Although, those numbers may be much larger because some are hesitant to admit they were fooled.
The Justice Department’s preliminary investigation found that the calls are being generated by a sophisticated overseas crime ring, but they warn that the probe could take years to complete. That’s not good enough for Collins.
“I’m going to chastise the Department for its failure to cooperate with our investigation, and for its lax attitude toward a scam that’s affecting thousands of American citizens. It is outrageous and inexcusable that the Department is not taking this more seriously and won’t even send a witness to testify. The scam will not stop until people start going to jail.”
It’s not just phones though. This week, I received the following message through my private email address:
Sincerely? Pfft…Hardly! While it was easy for me to see this for exactly what it is — an attempt to obtain my Social Security Number — others may not be so savvy.
We all like to think we won’t be the target of fraud. Just last January my credit card number was stolen after a vendor I used was hacked. Say what you want about banks, but they were on top of the problem with an entire department devoted to catching the scoundrels. Thankfully, no money was lost.
Be careful out there folks.