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Fake IRS agents are taking your money on the phone

Scammers impersonating Internal Revenue Service employees are harassing tax-paying Las Vegans.

The callers claim to be IRS employees, the federal agency says, but they’re con artists — sometimes very convincing ones, often threatening legal action if they don’t receive payments.

But IRS callers don’t make threats, agency spokesman Raphael Tulino said. Instead, he said, the agency generally mails letters to communicate with government debtors.

In November, the IRS said it had received 90,000 complaints about phone scams via a hotline. The Treasury Inspector General estimates 1,100 people have lost a combined $5 million from these scams.

Las Vegas resident Ed Godbey is one who has gotten the calls, even thought he has “no ongoing or pending business with the IRS,” he said. He hasn’t forked over any money.

In most cases, Tulino says the scammers tell the victims to pay an outstanding tax debt by putting money onto a pre-paid debit card.

“It’s an ongoing scam,” Tulino said.

Godbey, 58, said this past week that he started receiving calls from a woman claiming to be with the IRS who said her name was Susan White or Susan Smith in early January. The number, with a 415 area code, called four or five times over about 10 days.

“They’re threatening us,” he said. “ ‘Don’t cut off this phone call. Don’t ignore it.’ ”

Godbey called the number himself and heard a garbled, automated voice message.

Many scammers call from a 415 number from the San Francisco Bay Area, just like the number that called Godbey, Tulino said.

The IRS would call only if it hadn’t received a response after sending letters, Tulino said.

“It’s possible, not probable,” Tulino said of the chances of receiving a phone call from the IRS. And they wouldn’t sound threatening, he said.

An online search of the number Godbey says he is receiving the calls from turned up at least 10 additional complaints filed with websites such as Caller Complaints and Scam Call Fighters.

Local law enforcement is aware of the scam, Tulino said. The investigation has been ongoing for nearly two years.

Las Vegas police “do not have means” to investigate phone scams, especially when the calls originate from different cities, Metro spokeswoman officer Laura Meltzer said.

Meltzer, however, advises those who feel victimized to call the Federal Trade Commission (702-382-4357) and alerts them to be cautious with the information they share.

Every time someone calls soliciting personal information or payment “err on the side of caution” and make sure those calls are from a reliable source, Meltzer said. To report instances of IRS-related fraud attempts, call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.

Reporter Ricardo Torres contributed. Contact Kimberly De La Cruz at kdelacruz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @KimberlyinLV on Twitter.

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