Recent immigrants seem to be targeted by a advanced phone scam that frightens them with arrest and deportation.
Victims are told they owe Internal Revenue Service for taxes that must be paid immediately or they will be arrested, deported, or stripped of driving privileges. If they do not cooperate, the caller threatens them – sometimes violently – with insults.
Better Business Bureau says cases in California, Missouri and New Jersey totalling losses of $20,000 have been reported. In all three cases, fake IRS agents seem to target ESL-residents, telling them they owe back taxes and intimidating them into loading money on to Green Dot MoneyPak cards.
BBB serving the Snake River Region began receiving inquiries from residents on Wednesday. But Thursday afternoon, IRS officials confirmed this was a scam.
“Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.”
A woman in St. Louis, Mo., who sent nearly $11,000 to the thieves says she was under the caller’s control because of the fear of being deported. “I was very scared; he was controlling everything,” said the St. Louis County woman. She said the thieves instructed her to withdraw more than $12,000 from the couple’s bank accounts and then load $10,890 of that on Green Dot cards. She said she purchased the cards from several retail stores in her neighborhood over a period of several hours.
At one point, he told her he was setting up a three-way call with an Indian immigration official. The woman said that person demanded still more money to pay off what he described as an overdue “alien tax.” If she did not pay the money, her family would be deported,” he told her.
The victims then relayed the cards’ access codes to the thieves, allowing them to strip the cash from the accounts.
BBB offers the following tips to anyone contacted by a stranger demanding money:
- If the caller claims to represent law enforcement or a government agency, get the person’s name and affiliation and tell them you will call back. Look up the phone number for the agency and use that number to contact authorities. The agency will be able to tell you if the call is legitimate.
- Do not give a caller any personal information, including banking or Social Security numbers.
- If the call is from a debt collector, ask the caller to give proof of the debt by mail. If the caller refuses, hang up.
- Never transfer money to a stranger by wire transfers such as Western Union or MoneyGram or by using preloaded money cards such as Green Dot MoneyPaks. Such payments can be almost impossible to trace.
- If a caller threatens you in any way, contact police.
- If you are unsure about whether a call is legitimate, contact BBB, police or your attorney general’s office.