IRS reminds people to be wary of scammers calling to demand money

NEW YORK — Those pesky robo calls have reached epidemic proportions, particularly phone calls from unsavory characters impersonating the IRS, threatening you with arrest if you fail to settle what they claim are unpaid tax debts.

Thousands have fallen for the scam and paid out tens of millions of dollars.

Amy Pachner of the IRS says the problem is so prevalent that in the past five years there have been 14,000 victims who have lost 71 million dollars

Callers often sound credible with enough information about you to take them seriously. The scammers are targeting everyone. Pachner notes that victims are young and old, the scammers don't discriminate

Seniors living alone often fall victim, but recent surveys have found millennials are vulnerable targets as well.

The scammers have developed sophisticated techniques to avoid detection. For example the number shown on your caller I.D. Is not the number they are calling from.

Some potential victims give the scammers a scare of their own. One couple told me in an email they scared them off when "We told them that we were the police and they had called the number of a murder scene and we needed to know their relationship to the victim..." there was a quick disconnect."

Here are some signs to determine it's a scammer, not the IRS on the phone:

  • The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment
  • Demand payment without chance to question or appeal
  • Require you to use a specific method to pay, such as a prepaid debit card
  • The IRS will never threaten to have you arrested for not paying

The scam has become so pervasive, there are demands that congress take some action.

New York Congressman Gregory Meeks says he's calling for technology that would once and for all short circuit all those calls.

If you want to report any of those robo calls, you can reach the IRS hotline 1-800-829-1040.

A footnote to this story. While I was conducting the interview at the IRS, I was rudely interrupted by a phone call — a robo call.