Over the last two years, a large number of people in the United States have fallen victim to crooks posing as IRS agents. It seems they have become quite good at this dishonest undertaking.

The scam is pretty simple. They call you on the telephone and tell you that they work for the IRS. Then they threaten you, typically with jail time, if you don’t make arrangements to pay some outstanding debt to the IRS.  Then they walk you through how to pay them over the telephone.

These people can be very convincing. I’ve had a number of clients, as well as a number of scared strangers, call me terrified that the IRS is going to arrest them if they don’t pay. Unfortunately these crooks seem to target people who are especially vulnerable, including a number of widows, single people who are alone and desperate, and the elderly.

One of these crooks actually called me. Since I don’t owe the IRS any money and because I knew what to ask, I was able to find out right away that they were lying. But it was fun to stay on the phone for about 30 minutes and ask them questions about how much I owe, what they were going to do to me, where they were located, what my choices were to fix the problem, etc.

About 20 minutes into the phone call they figured out that I had figured them out. And then they spoke quite candidly to me about what they were doing and why they were doing it. Apparently they work in a several large call centers in India with a number of others. They were poor and need the job so they studied how to imitate IRS agents, used a script, and laid it on heavy.

The news reports from the IRS are pretty frightening. Apparently tens of thousands of people have fallen prey to the scam and have lost tens of millions of dollars. The scam reached new heights about six months ago when it seems like I was receiving calls daily from targets.

The good news is that the US government has tracked these people down. They have found their locations, most of which are in India, and arrested hundreds . They have also found some of the representatives here in the United States and arrested them as well.

As a consequence the number of episodes has decreased dramatically but are becoming more active during the holidays.

So I want to warn you that the IRS will not contact you by telephone to threaten you with jail time, nor will they force payment through iPhone and other cards.

If you get contacted by one of these people, I would suggest you laugh and hang up, or better yet give them my telephone number.  Or you can go see your accountant right away and let them handle it.  Give him or her the phone number and call them back on the same phone that you received the call.  They have caller ID and so can verify who it is that’s calling. Any tax representative that’s worth his salt will be able to flush them out right away.

The Internal Revenue Service has published several notices regarding these scams.  Their recommendation is that if you receive something such as a phone call or an email that you contact their complaint line at 1-800-366-4484 and file a complaint online at the TIGTA website.

Folks I want to say again that these are simply Indian call center employees who are sending mass text messages and phone calls to US cell phone numbers.

Above all, it is important that you never give out your personal information -don’t give them any social security numbers, employer identification numbers,  credit card numbers, bank account numbers or anything like that.

So folks rest well and enjoy the holidays- these crooks will all be in jail soon.