By Sabina Mollot
Throughout this week, a few readers of Town & Village alerted us to the fact that an overseas phone scam, in which the callers pretend to be from the IRS while threatening people with lawsuits or even arrest, had returned to the Stuy Town/Peter Cooper neighborhood.
One of the readers, a Stuy Town senior, told T&V the calls had even seemed to get more aggressive because they’ve become more frequent — annoying her five times in a span of three days.
“They keep saying this is my final warning. I wish it would be,” she fumed. “It’s very threatening. It’s 8-9 in the morning.”
While the resident said she thought the call sounded ridiculous, like others who called us, she was more concerned about others who might get frightened by the mention of the IRS. “Maybe some people will still get scared and send them money,” she said.
Back in November, a number of residents from both Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were the recipients of the calls around the same time. The calls, despite the messages being slightly different, were all the same in that a recorded robotic female voice would claim to have urgent business with the person being called from either the Internal Revenue Service or the Department of Treasury. There would then be a demand for the person to call back a number for more information, otherwise be in danger of getting arrested or sued.
But despite having phone numbers that appear to be either from Washington, DC, or Los Angeles, the callers are from overseas and have altered their caller ID, a spokesperson for the IRS told T&V at the time. Additionally, the scam, while initially appearing to target seniors and people who don’t speak English as a first language, has grown to target people randomly in different areas around the country. So far, thousands of people have been impacted and millions of dollars have been lost with no way for victims to get their money back.
On Wednesday morning, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an uptick in the calls to New Yorkers. According to Schneiderman, once the scammers get in direct contact with intended victims, they will request that the “IRS Tax Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram. Sometimes scammers will also ask victims for personal information such as a Social Security number in order to commit identity theft. Additionally, he warned that along with showing local phone numbers on victims’ caller ID, sometimes the caller will show up as “Internal Revenue Service.”
The A.G., in a press release, advised New Yorkers to think of the phone as a “one-way street,” only giving out information if they are the ones who made the call. If someone calls claiming to be from a person’s bank, for example, needing information, he recommended hanging up and calling back the bank.
“The tactics used by these fraudsters are reprehensible, but following a few basic tips can help protect you and your wallet,” Schneiderman said.
Last week, the commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Brendan Timoney also raised the issue at a community council meeting, since tax season is busy time for IRS scams.
On this subject, Timoney said, “You’ll get calls saying it’s the IRS and you need to pay or you’ll get arrested. Believe me, you won’t get arrested. If you do, I’ll come bail you out.”