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Editorial: File this one under ‘IRS scams’

As if filling out federal and state tax income forms wasn’t enough this winter, the telephone scammers are out in full force now, operating under the guise of the Internal Revenue Service.

Beware. The latest IRS scam — and people in Rowan County already are reporting having received this telephone call — is a recorded message saying the IRS has initiated a lawsuit against the recipient for unpaid taxes. Those receiving the call are advised to call a number with a “202” (Washington, D.C.) area code immediately where, of course, the efforts begin to have the person transfer money to pay delinquent taxes and stop the IRS’ legal proceedings.

The D.C. area code makes people more susceptible to this kind of call. The thinking goes, if it really is the IRS calling, wouldn’t it be from the headquarters in Washington? There’s also cruel urgency in the automated message and its demand to act now, or the weight of the IRS will fall upon you.

This is the newest version of scammers using the IRS as a weapon to victimize people. An even more sinister ploy in recent times has been for the con artists to call in person, identifying themselves as IRS representatives and instructing their potential victims to pay delinquent taxes at once or face a warrant’s being issued for their arrest.

In many cases, that call is followed up by another person, this time posing as a local law enforcement officer, who says he is on his way to serve an arrest warrant — unless payment is received.

Believe it or not, these bullying tactics of intimidation sometimes work, according to the IRS and Better Business Bureau.

The IRS reports more than 250,000 people nationwide complained of receiving calls such as these last year, and 3,000 acknowledged they fell for the scam, with the victims losing an average of  $4,600 each.

There are important things to remember:

• The IRS will never call you by telephone or contact you by email. It will not send you text messages or try to contact you through social media channels such as Facebook. The IRS’ first contact about unpaid taxes is always through the regular mail.

• So if the IRS won’t call you, it’s also not going to be requiring a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card. It will not be asking for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. The IRS doesn’t ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential information for credit card, bank or other accounts.

• The IRS never demands payment without giving a taxpayer an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

•  On the telephone, the IRS does not threaten citizens with arrest for nonpayment.

Telephone scams in general — IRS related, or some other con — cost their victims billions of dollars a year. They work, so again, beware.

The overriding thing to remember is never give any personal information to strangers over the telephone. And don’t pay attention to bullies.

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