D.A.: Phone scam targets Merced County immigrant communities

The Merced County District Attorney’s Office issued a warning this week about a recent telephone scam in Merced County that appears to target immigrant communities in particular.

Callers tell residents they owe money – typically $7,000 – in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and are threatened with deportation, jail time and having their driver’s license revoked unless they pay up immediately, District Attorney Larry D. Morse II said in a statement.

“These threats, especially of deportation, can be very effective against new immigrants who may not understand how the system works in their new country,” Morse said.

Potential victims are told the money must be paid promptly through a prepaid debit card or bank wire transfer of the funds. If the potential victim refuses to cooperate, the scammer will often become hostile and insulting.

“That’s when the threats of arrest, deportation, or other dire consequences begin,” Morse said in the statement. “It is important to understand that if the IRS needs to contact you regarding a tax issue, it will do so by U.S. mail, not by telephone.”

Morse advised anyone receiving a phone call or communication from someone claiming to be from the IRS to do the following:

• If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. The IRS employees can help you with questions or any payment matter – 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 a bogus threat as described above, then call and report the incident to the treasury inspector general for tax administration at (800) 366-4484.

• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use the FTC Complaint Assistant at Add “IRS telephone scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Typical characteristics of this scheme include:

• Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

• Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.

• Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from the agency.

• Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their calls.

• Victims can hear background noise of other calls being conducted, mimicing a call site.

• After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the DMV or area police, and the caller ID supports their claim.