A telephone scam that was the subject of an IRS warning in March continues, having alarmed at least a few Roaring Fork Valley residents over the past couple of weeks.
Local residents told the Aspen Daily News they’ve received calls from scammers who claim to work for “a federal agency representing the IRS.” The callers know the names, phone numbers and addresses of their targets. They seek money for a fictitious tax bill that can be paid via credit card or online. They say that an arrest warrant will be executed within hours by local law enforcement if the bill is not paid immediately.
In one instance, a caller was seeking as much as $5,000 from the target, who took the request seriously and asked several questions about the nature of the tax problem before it became clear that a scam was in progress.
Another potential target said they called her workplace, spoke with the office manager and even mentioned that a “Deputy Ryan” was standing by to execute a warrant.
Even Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo received such a call, estimating that it occurred a few months ago.
“I received such a phone call and I know these people are calling from another country and there’s nothing I can do about it,” DiSalvo said Wednesday.
“They asked, ‘Is this Joe DiSalvo?’ I said, ‘Yes it is.’ ‘Well, there’s a warrant for your arrest and if you don’t send us $500 we’ll contact the local police department.’
“And I kinda went, ‘I am the local police department,’” DiSalvo said.
DiSalvo said the sheriff’s office wouldn’t be asked by the IRS to arrest someone over a tax issue.
“And we wouldn’t say, the arrest will be called off if you send us X amount of dollars through your credit card,” he said. “That’s not the way we or any other law enforcement agency in this valley operates.”
The sheriff’s office, custodians of the local jail, doesn’t accept credit-card payments for people posting bond following an arrest, he said.
“To post bond, there has to be cash or check or a money order. So when they say they want a credit card, that in itself would be a red flag,” DiSalvo said.
He said he didn’t know of any official complaints of IRS- or tax-related scams registered recently with the sheriff’s office. A representative of the Aspen Police Department could not be reached for comment on whether any complaints have been logged with the city’s law enforcement agency.
In March, the IRS issued a public warning about “a new twist” on the IRS impersonation phone scam whereby criminals fake calls from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS.
“Similar to other IRS impersonation scams, thieves make unsolicited phone calls to their intended victims fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS” or an agency working for the IRS, a news release states.
The contact may come from “robo-calls” that request a call back, according to the release. Once the taxpayer returns the call, the con artist may request personal information, including Social Security and taxpayer ID numbers, or credit-card information.
Alternately, scammers may tell would-be victims that they are entitled to a large refund but must first provide personal information, the warning says. Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers to identify themselves, and they may send bogus IRS emails to support the calls.
Often, targets will hear background noises that mimic a call site. Victims are usually threatened with jail time.
The release says the IRS will never:
• Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
• Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
• Demand that taxes be paid without giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
• Ask for credit- or debit-card numbers over the phone.
• Call about an unexpected refund.
DiSalvo said his department stands ready to assist anyone with concerns about a phone call that may be part of a scam.
“Please don’t send any money to anybody who’s asking for a phone solicitation,” he said. “Call my office and we’ll tell you whether you’re wanted or not by any of these agencies that call you. Call the IRS directly, check with your accountant, do whatever, but do not automatically send money to anybody who’s asking for it over the phone.”
The sheriff’s office can be reached at (970) 920-5300. In addition, the IRS asks that fraudulent calls be reported to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 866-8434.
Possible scams and instances of fraud also can be reported through an online form available at treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report.shtml.