Imagine your caller ID indicates the Internal Revenue Service is on the line.
You think, "I better answer this call." You are told that you owe a large tax bill and will need to immediately wire money to avoid serious consequences. You might protest, but then the caller threatens you with arrest, suspension of your driver's license or, if you are an immigrant, deportation. The caller may also follow up, pretending to be from the local police or your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. Again, caller ID will lead you to believe the phone call is legitimate.
But it is not. It's a fraud. The caller is using a practice known as "caller ID spoofing." The displayed telephone number or name has been falsified.
The IRS, which has seen an increase in this type of scam, would not request payment in such a manner nor threaten to send police to your home. Nor would the agency ask for your bank account or credit card information for a payment over the phone.
In addition to the caller ID trick, scammers might try these methods:
-- Fake names and titles, or use actual titles to make the call or email seem valid.
-- Read to you part of your Social Security number. Think about it. Lots of things we do officially include the last four digits of this number. I've often seen such paperwork casually tossed in a trash can or left lying around, easy pickings for someone up to no good.
-- Email you before or soon after making the fake call. If you do indeed owe money, the IRS will contact you first through the U.S. Postal Service.
-- Simulate a call center. You might hear background noise of other people talking.
In the days now leading up to the tax-filing deadline, law enforcement officials across the country are warning people about the phony tax scam. The police chief in Laurel, Md., sent out an alert to residents after receiving complaints.