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In addition to scammers demanding ransom money for the safe release of a relative, there has been an increase in phone scams by individuals posing as the IRS, according to information from the Evanston Police Department.

The scam is now so pervasive that the IRS has reported more than 20,000 incidents. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) calls it the largest scam of its kind, having bilked unsuspecting citizens of more than $1 million. According to the IRS, here is how it works:

The thief poses as the IRS and makes an unsolicited call to the target. The caller tells the target/victim that he or she owes taxes to the IRS and demands that the target/victim pay the money immediately with a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer.

The caller often threatens the target/victim with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

Thieves who run this scam often do the following:
• Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
• Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
• Make caller ID appear as if the IRS is calling.
• Send bogus IRS emails to support the bogus calls.
• Call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles. The caller ID again appears to support their claim.

Here are the warning signs:
• The IRS generally contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes.
• The IRS will not ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.
• The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number over the phone.
• The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of e-communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
• The IRS does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential information for credit card, bank or other accounts.

And here is what can be done:
Anyone who owes, or thinks he or she might owe, federal taxes should hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help with payment questions. The IRS will not ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.

Those who do not owe taxes should call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

They can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov and add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in the complaint.