Calls prompt area warning about tax scams

Apparently, tax scammers aren’t inclined to take the summer off.

A reader Tuesday reported an ominous message left on his voice mail, implying legal action and other dire consequences from supposedly unpaid back taxes. Worse, his grandparents had gotten the same call.

These calls claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service and declare “the local police will be arresting them for back unpaid taxes if they don’t call them back and pay,” according to the Iron Mountain Police Department, which also got reports from concerned citizens, enough to prompt a press release Tuesday from Edwin Mattson, director of police and fire services.

Not surprisingly, none of the call’s threats are true. It’s aimed at scaring some of the most vulnerable residents in the community, preying on people who likely have little extra money to lose.

“This,” Mattson’s release stressed in no uncertain terms, “is a scam.”

This comes on the heels of a state warning on much the same topic, “criminals impersonating state tax officials” in robocalls or “phishing” emails trying to get payment on a supposed tax debt.

The calls usually demand payment in cash through a wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card, according to the Michigan Department of the Treasury.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like Treasury, the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.

But the first tip-off should be the phone call. “The Michigan Department of Treasury doesn’t initially contact taxpayers through the phone,” officials advised. “Our first interaction is generally done by mail.”

The state Treasury also will never:

— Initiate a phone call to ask for personal information.

— Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, Treasury first will mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

— 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.

Taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or don’t think they owe taxes should hang up immediately if they receive one of these calls, state Treasury officials said. Individuals who owe taxes or think they do can call 517-636-4486 to find out their account balance information.

Taxpayers who have received a call from a scammer should report the case to the IRS through the web or by calling 800-366-4484.

To learn more about Michigan’s individual income tax, go to www.michigan.gov/incometax.

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