PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – When one Local 10 News viewer received a threatening voice mail from someone who claimed she owed money to the Internal Revenue Service, she did not return the call. According to Lois Dilibero, the message told her she was being sued for $5,000, but she used her common sense to determine it was a fraud.
"I knew I didn't owe money to anybody," she said.
Instead, Dilibero chose to call Local 10 News consumer advocate Christina Vazquez.
"I called you because I knew you were doing something on scams and I immediately knew it was a scam," Dilibero told Vazquez.
She contacted Local 10's consumer protection hotline to warn others.
Tax season is a lucrative time for identity thieves and IRS impostors. The IRS said con artists often use phone scams to steal money or get personal information, like a Social Security number, in order to file a false return.
According to Secure Wealth Planning Group President Richard Ehrlich, the IRS paid out more than $5 billion to thieves posing as taxpayers.
"This could be a big problem for you because by the time you find out, it takes months to get your return because the IRS is trying to figure out who's who," he said.
Ehrlich recommends three ways to stop the scammers in their tracks.
First, file early.
"If the IRS already has your information on file, and the thief calls ahead and uses your name, then it is a deterrent," he said.
The IRS agent should then realize what's going on.
Second, file electronically using a secure Internet connection.
Finally, protect any personal information. The IRS will never ask for financial information, such as bank account numbers or personal pins, over the phone or via email. Contact the IRS directly with any questions.
Crimes like these can have lasting impacts on their victims.
"Identify theft can wreck people for years," Ehrlich said.
Real or fake?
After listening to the message on her machine, Dilibero knew she was being scammed right away. According to the IRS, it should be pretty easy to tell if the caller is a fake. Here are five things scammers often do that the IRS will not do.
The IRS will never:
1. Call to demand immediate payment nor will they call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Receiving calls from the IRS
The IRS website provides a list of actions to take if you receive a suspicious phone call similar to the message left on Dilibero's machine.
If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
If you know you don't owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you've never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
You can file a complaint using the Federal Trade Commission's complaint assistant. Choose "Other" and then "Impostor Scams." If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words "IRS telephone scam" in the notes.
Steps to take if you become a victim
If you are a victim of identity theft or tax fraud, here are the steps you should take to protect yourself from further damage:
File a report with the local police.
File a complaint with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov or the FTC identity theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or 1-866-653-4261.
Close any accounts opened without your permission or tampered with.
If you have already tried to contact the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact the identity protection specialized unit at 1-800-908-4490.
Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV
Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10