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Fake IRS agents steal $349K in Michigan

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Michiganians have lost nearly $349,000 to scammers posing as Internal Revenue Service agents demanding overdue tax payments, according to federal investigators.

Michigan is No. 13 when the states are ranked by the amount of money lost by victims in the phone fraud scam. At least 88 individuals have fallen for the fraudulent pitch at a combined cost of $348,729 since 2013, according to figures from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Nationwide, 3,112 victims lost a total $15.6 million to the ruse. The Treasury Inspector General’s office has received more than 400,000 reports of contacts associated with the scam.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office this month advised consumers that the IRS will never contact consumers directly through email or with a phone call, so any calls or emails claiming to be from the IRS are fraudulent. It usually will start with a letter.

“Con artists take advantage of tax season at the expense of Michigan taxpayers,” AG Bill Schuette said in a statement. “This time of year can be stressful enough for families without having to worry that their personal information may be stolen.”

J. Russell George, the IRS inspector general, said last week real agents don't demand payment by debit card, credit card or wire transfer.

Timothy Camus, a Treasury deputy inspector general for tax administration, told a Senate committee this month that the tax criminals call people in all states and from all income levels and backgrounds.

“The callers often warned the victims that if they hung up, local police would come to their homes to arrest them,” Camus told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing.

The scam is so widespread investigators believe there is more than one group of perpetrators, including some overseas. Camus said he received a call at his home on a Saturday. He said he had a stern message for the caller: “Your day will come.”

So far, two people in Florida have been arrested, Camus said. They were accused of being part of a scam that involved people in call centers in India contacting U.S. taxpayers and pretending to be IRS agents.

The IRS and the inspector general's office started warning taxpayers about the scam a year ago, and it has since ballooned.

Tax scams often increase during tax filing season, and with millions of Americans preparing their returns ahead of the April 15 deadline, the IRS is seeing many cases of identity theft and refund fraud.

mburke@detroitnews.com

REPORT FRAUD

The IRS asks recipients to forward scam e-mails to phishing@irs.gov and advises not to open any attachments and not to click on any links in those e-mails.