Five people were arrested by authorities in Miami Tuesday after being accused of swindling over 1,500 victims, the Washington Post is reporting.
The criminals are suspected of harassing people to pay money to fake IRS officials — money they did not owe. The scam, which has been going on for awhile according to reports, has netted the criminals around $36.5 million.
The suspects were charged with wire fraud as well as the conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The Cuban nationals wrongly impersonated IRS agents, asking for money from victims and telling them they would be arrested by agents if they did not wire their payments quickly. The desperate scammers have even at times demanded victims to pay using iTunes gift cards.
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Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George, speaking after the arrest of the scammers, said that “the scammers are relentless and so are we.” His office had been investigating prevalent phone scam syndicates since August 2013 and arrested some individuals in the process. The IRS had raised an alarm in February about a new dimension to the scams, warning people to be cautious about emails or phone calls that they received.
IRS issues warning about phone scam
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Deputy Inspector General Tim Camus labeled the scam “the largest and most pervasive” the IRS had faced in the last three decades. He revealed that around 6,400 victims paid the criminals $36.5 million; on the average each victim paid $5,700. The Cuban criminals were tracked following a tip that came through a fraud hotline in 2015 established by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
A woman had called in saying that her husband had received a debt threat from the IRS totaling around $2,000. She said her husband had driven to a local Walmart store to send the money. Senator Susan Collins R-Maine said the flustered man had even crashed his car en route but left the accident scene to hurriedly wire the money.
The fraud hotline investigator who received the report tracked the wire transfer to Minnesota and provided the information to relevant authorities who tracked down two of the suspects after viewing Walmart surveillance footage.
Those in custody are Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Roberto Fontanella Caballero, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Espinosa Diaz. The criminals got their victims to send them money using Moneygram, Walmart2Walmart, and a host of other money wiring services.
Criminal complaints had poured in from Texas, Arkansas, and Minnesota to offices of the U.S Attorney; most of the victims had sent payments from these states. The con artists had told the victims that they were in possession of their tax returns and needed to validate their personal information in order to process the papers. After that, they asked for money to be wired to pay off pending debts.
Camus has said the scheme is “an old fashioned” crime with a twist of modern technology. The Deputy Inspector General said the criminals were able to cloak their telephone numbers because they were using Voiceover features. He added that the phone calls were made from locations outside the United States.
Nancy Willaford said she received a call from someone claiming that she owed $3,598 in back taxes. The caller had said if she did not pay up, she would be fined $30,000 and could spend up to five years in jail. She refused to pay because she knew it was a scam.
It is crucial to realize that the IRS will never demand immediate payment or tell you to pay to a prepaid debit card. If tax money is owed, the IRS mails a bill first. If you want to be sure that you owe taxes, you can reach the tax preparer and the IRS at 800-829-1040 or find out more at www.irs.gov. If you believe that you are being scammed, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration or TIGTA at 800-366-4484. Consumers can also file complaints at www.ftc.gov.
[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]