State: Summer brings spike in tax scam calls
They’re a bloodsucking bane of summer looking for an opportunity, like deer flies, but more than just an annoyance.
This is the time of year when Michigan residents can get fake phone calls that claim to be government tax officials.
These calls aim to intimidate, badger and threaten the target into believing he or she owes money — and must pay immediately, the Michigan Department of Treasury warns.
Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service or another agency is calling. The callers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.
Even if the person doesn’t pick up the call, they might be left with an “urgent” and dire-sounding message to call soon and settle this “debt.”
Or it might come in the form of a phishing email, again with the thin veneer of being official and the tone that sounds like the tax collector is at the curb with a court order, just waiting for the signal to pounce.
But one easy clue remains to tell if the call is a fake. It’s the call itself.
“The Michigan Department of Treasury doesn’t initially contact taxpayers through the phone,” said Deputy Treasurer Glenn White, head of Treasury’s Tax Administration Group. “Our first interaction is generally done by mail.”
Another tip — they insist on cash through a wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card. The state treasury doesn’t do that; a bill first will be mailed to anyone who owes taxes.
The Treasury also will never:
— Initiate a phone call to ask for personal information;
— Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law enforcement to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying;
— Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed;
— Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
The treasury recommends taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or don’t think they owe taxes hang up immediately if they receive one of these calls. Those who do owe taxes or might be unsure can call 517-636-4486 to check on their status.
Taxpayers who receive a scam call should report it to the IRS through the web or by calling 800-366-4484.
To learn more about Michigan’s income tax, go to www.michigan.gov/incometax.