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Old scam, new delivery method: Text messages

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Frank Schultz
Friday, October 20, 2017

JANESVILLE—The IRS scam is potent, using people's fear of the tax collector to get them to panic and hand over money.

Some people have gotten used to ignoring the bogus phone calls or letters containing “phishing” attempts. But now there's a twist.

Janesville police said three different residents this week came in to complain of receiving text messages to their phones that appear to be IRS scam attempts.

The IRS also reports people are now receiving these scam attempts on social media, as person-to-person messaging becomes more popular on services such as Facebook or Twitter, said Sgt. Aaron Ellis of the Janesville police.

“These scammers must have figured out that the phone calls aren't working anymore,” Ellis said. “The response we've seen is, people are being extra cautious, and they're calling us to say, 'Is this legitimate?'"

“I'm glad they're doing this. It's saving us a lot of paperwork.”

And saving themselves from losing money to a scam artist.

These scammers usually tell people they owe the IRS money, and they must pay promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer, according to the IRS website.

Scammers sometimes threaten arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver's license.

“In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Or victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn't answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request,” the IRS says.

But the IRS will not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media to request personal or financial information. And it does not threaten taxpayers with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action, the website states.

“I think people are screening their phone calls by watching for area codes they don't recognize on their caller ID,” Ellis said.

Ellis expects scammers will continue to seek new ways to deliver their messages, hoping to catch people unawares.

“It's a constant cat-and-mouse game that we play,” he said.



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