Scammers net thousands by saying they’re from the IRS

MUKILTEO — Scammers posing as IRS agents have been fleecing local people out of thousands of dollars in recent weeks.

Since May, at least three people in Mukilteo have been duped into surrendering cash by someone pretending to be an IRS agent who has threatened to arrest them if they don’t pay up fast.

The scam has been pulled off over the phone.

The caller claims to be an IRS agent who tells people there is a problem with their tax return. He then warns his victims that their assets and homes are about to be seized and they will be placed under arrest within the hour if they don’t follow his instructions, Mukilteo crime prevention officer Colt Davis said.

Victims in Mukilteo were directed to go to commercial outlets where they could buy prepaid cards and read the serial numbers to the IRS agent impersonator. The victims were kept on the phone during the transactions.

“The money is just gone,” Davis said.

The three cases in Mukilteo occurred between May 3 and June 12. Four other people reported similar attempts to con them, according to Mukilteo police reports.

The victims ranged from 31 to 64.

One victim, 55, ended up paying about $8,500. The scammer received an initial payment but called back to say there were other fines and fees that must be paid.

The IRS issued a nationwide warning about the scam in April. At the time, it reported that immigrants frequently are targeted. Potential victims are threatened with deportation, arrest, having their utilities shut off or having their driver’s licenses revoked.

Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number. They also might use spoof IRS toll-free numbers on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

When a Mukilteo police officer called the scammer’s phone number, he received an expletive-laced response followed by a hang-up, Davis said.

“I know we forward a lot of cases to the IRS,” Davis said.

Agents with the IRS criminal division often work with local police departments when they get complaints, agency spokesman David Tucker said.

Cases such as these are hard to solve. The scammers frequently are calling from out of state or even out of the country and take precautions to protect their identities and cover their tracks, officials said.

People need to safeguard their personal information and be armed with knowledge, Tucker said.

“No. 1, we don’t initiate contacts with a taxpayer by telephone or through email,” he said. “If people get a phone call and a person is claiming to be with the IRS, especially if they are asking for personal or financial information, they should not provide any information.”

Then they should call the police.

They also can call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

When the tax agency is trying to reach people, it issues notices or sends letters through the U.S. Postal Service, Tucker said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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