Five people have been arrested in Miami who are said to be responsible for scamming 1,500 people out of more than $2 million by impersonating IRS agents. Their scams centered on contacting individual taxpayers out of the blue and demanding payments under the threat of jail time.
News of the arrests circulated Tuesday after the Associated Press reported on them. Sources in the Treasury Department said that the five individuals - all Cuban nationals - demanded money from their victims, threatening arrest if the payments were not wired immediately.
In recent months, the scammers demanded payment via iTunes gift cards.
Scams such as this, Deputy Inspector General Tim Camus told the Washington Post, have become the "largest and most pervasive" the IRS has faced over the last three decades. Some 6,400 victims have reported more than $36 million in losses, some paying up to $5,700 on average.
Late last year, "Mike Wilson" called and threatened this reporter with arrest over tax irregularities. The entire call was recorded as it happened, and is embedded below. While this call was recorded last September, there is no way to confirm if the recorded callers are the same people who were arrested this week.
"If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS or in a new twist, the Treasury Department, and uses the threat of legal action if you do not pay immediately, that is a sign that it is not the IRS calling, and your cue to hang up," said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a statement earlier this year.
If you receive a similar call, here are some important facts to remember: (1) The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes; (2) The IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order or a wire transfer; (3) The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number or your bank information over the phone.