It was a fairly typical Wednesday afternoon, meaning that I was trying to decide what I’d write about for the second column of the week, when the phone rang. A recorded voice on the other end said that the calling organization could prevent criminal charges and collection activities because of my business’ tax problems. All I had to do was press 1.
I thought about an email I’d received the previous week with similar wording and which was instantly dispatched to the bit bucket of scam emails. I wondered if I’d missed something, so I pressed 1. The man who answered said that he was with the office of tax relief services at the U.S. Treasury Department.
“We can prevent the IRS from arresting you and we can stop the collection services,” said the man, who identified himself as Rudy. By now I knew it was a scam, if only because the Internal Revenue Service already had all of my money, so I told “Rudy” that I didn’t owe any taxes. So he asked to talk to my accounting department so he could discuss my tax payments.
At this point, I told Rudy that I was reporting his call and I hung up, but not before he let loose a couple of choice invectives, all of which seemed to use the word “Trump,” repeatedly. Perhaps he was discussing someone playing Bridge, but I doubt it.
The earlier email, the one I’d sent into oblivion, had also carried a few clear threats towards my corporation, which is one reason I knew it was a scam, since I don’t actually run a corporation. But now it was coming clear.
What appears to be going on here is a new version of the popular tax scam that’s worked well in the past, but has been revised to prey on small businesses where there are only a few people filling all of the jobs and all of them are overworked—in other words, companies with no clear line of responsibilities. In those situations, it might be possible to convince someone senior at a company to simply pay what appeared to be a tax bill without checking it in a lot of detail.
While most of these scams come in via email or by phone, apparently it’s also possible for people pretending to be representatives of the IRS or the Treasury Department to appear at your company in person. However it happens, the folks at Treasury have a plan and in some cases remedies for these scams.
If a person claiming to be an agent of the Treasury Department or the IRS shows up at your offices, your first step should be to demand to see their official identification credentials. If you need to confirm that they’re real, you should email the Office of the Inspector General at OIGCounsel@oig.treas.gov with a description and any other information you can provide.
If you get an email claiming to be from the government and demanding immediate payment of taxes, you can be pretty sure it’s a scam, since the IRS will communicate such things by regular U.S. Postal Service mail. In addition, the IRS will give you time to contact your accountant and your legal counsel.
Legitimate IRS agents will not demand immediate payment on their first contact with your company. You have legal rights after all and that includes the right of due process involving audits, hearings, the right to present evidence in your defense and appeals.
Note that those emails may have vaguely official-looking documents attached in an effort to convince you that they’re real. But they’re not, and in any case you should avoid clicking on such things. One thing you can do is examine the actual links in the email and see where they really go. Be aware that it’s common to create a link that seems to be government link when it’s not.
A good indication that a link is fake is when it looks something like this: www.treasury.irs.fredsfraudshopgov.com.” Note that the beginning of the URL seems to be from the government source, but that there’s a .com ending. The government uses a .gov ending for its domains.
Phone calls are a little easier, since the IRS will never call you. But if you get a call from someone claiming to be from the government and demanding payment, you can assume it’s fraudulent, and hang up on them. Or, you can collect their information and pass it along to the Treasury Inspector General.
Some of these folks who send emails and make phone calls can be very persuasive, and they’re still faithfully keeping up the effort to part you from your money. This is one reason you (or your accounting staff) may be asked to contribute money.
If you do send some money to the scammers, you can report how much on the Inspector General website mentioned above. But before you send money, please be aware that the U.S. government does not ask for nor accept payment in the form of gift cards or iTunes cards. Demanding payment in such an untraceable means is a sure giveaway that the scam is in play.
Despite your best efforts, these scammers will keep trying to get to someone in your company, which means that in addition to knowing what to do, you also need to train everyone in your company to be aware of the scams and how they work. This will help protect your company from well-practiced criminals. The Inspector General offers some advice as well that’s worth reading.
Your employees are your best defense against falling for the schemes of online and phone scammers, but only if they’re trained and motivated. That part is up to you.