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Another 'IRS' Phone Scam Reported In NWFL

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A number of residents have called the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office to report another common scam, conducted in the name of the Internal Revenue Service.

Tax-related scams cost victims more than $23 million per year, according to TIGTA, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.  The IRS has also seen a 400% increase in phishing schemes.

“They go in and tell them they owe back taxes, and sometimes they’ll even threaten that there will be a warrant for their arrest or seizure of their properties,” said James Hall, an investigator with the ECSO. He adds that such calls generally send up a really quick red flag, because the IRS doesn’t operate that way.

“[The IRS] is going to send you a notice in the mail, if they’re going to audit or if there’s any other kind of tax issue,” said Hall. “They’re not going to demand funds over the phone.”

This is identical to what surfaced in March during tax season. One theory as to why such scams are prevalent in northwest Florida is that the region is home for a large older and/or retired population. But James Hall at the Sheriff’s Office says that it’s more of a national issue that cycles through. Another theory forwarded by Hall is that it may be the IRS being misrepresented in this instance, but the names can change with new forms of the phone scam.

“It may be a law enforcement agency, or it may be a utility like Gulf Power,” Hall said. “Basically, the scam stays the same. They just spoof different numbers, and they represent different entities.”

If you do receive a call, do not provide personal information such as bank account numbers – and do not send cash. Hall says there are ways to fight back. Anyone who gets a bogus IRS call is encouraged to contact the Escambia County Sheriff's Office to report it. That, says Hall, helps them know what’s going on and the phone numbers being used in the scam.

“If we don’t have a bad guy we can go after in Escambia County, it may not necessarily lead us into a specific investigation here,” says Hall. “But you never know what piece of the puzzle is missing, and where that missing piece is going to come from that may solve one of these cases.”

And Hall concedes that phone scams are one of the more difficult crimes to solve, especially where there are no local contacts to run down.

Besides local law enforcement, victims can also contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484, or visit their website at www.tigta.gov.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.