The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t for sale, and the guy on the phone isn’t an IRS agent.

By: Aaron Hoffman

Hucksters, con men, and scammers have been part of the American landscape since the country’s founding. From Wild West “snake oil” salesmen to modern day Ponzi Schemers, America has certainly seen its fair share. So, who holds the dubious title of the best con man in U.S. history? That honor goes to none other than George C. Parker. During his life, Parker “sold” a number of U.S. landmarks such as Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb, and even the Statue of Liberty. However, he’s most famous for “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions to willing dupes. Eventually convicted of fraud, a judge sentenced Parker to serve a life term in prison. While he died in Sing Sing Prison in 1936, his legacy lives on. His antics gave rise to the phrase, “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)

While modern day scammers might not have a bridge to sell you, they certainly have other nefarious ways to part you from your money. Did you know that every year, people posing as IRS agents scam millions of dollars from Americans?

Fortunately, the IRS has some helpful tips that can keep you from falling prey to a scam.

Tip #1 – Watch the mail

Most IRS contact comes via regular mail through the U.S. Post Office. If it comes from another source, be suspicious! In addition, if the IRS has to take official action, they will first notify you via letter through the U.S. Postal Service.

Tip #2 – Listen for threats and intimidation

If you get a caller on the phone and they claim that they’re from the IRS, be aware that an IRS agent will never do any of the following:

  • Demand payment via gift card, wire transfer, or a pre-paid debit card
  • Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to appeal or question the amount that you owe
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement officers and have you arrested for not paying.
  • Threaten to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status

Tip #3 – Look for credentials

If you get an “in-person” visit from an IRS agent, they will produce two forms of official identification; a pocket commission card and an HSPD-12 card. If they don’t have these or refuse to produce them, you can assume that they’re scammers!

Tip #4 – Who gets the money?

If your caller or visitor demands money and they want the payment to go some entity other than the U.S Treasury, don’t pay because it’s a scam.

Tip #5 – Report them!

Phone Scams

If you get a call from someone posing as an IRS Agent, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can call 800-366-4484, or file an online complaint at IRS Impersonating Scam Reporting.

Also, you can report a phone scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes section.

Email Scams

If you get an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS related component, report it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov

For more info, please see the IRS publication How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door.

Fun Fact!

One of the earliest recorded cases of insurance fraud comes from ancient Greece. In 300 B.C., a merchant named Hegestratos took out a large insurance policy on his ship. He reportedly planned on sinking his empty ship, selling its cargo, and pocketing the insurance money. Hegestratos’s passengers and crew caught him red-handed, and he drowned as he tried to escape (Investopedia.com).

Aaron Hoffman works for the Department of Labor and Industries. Along with his duties as Contract Manager for the COHE Program, he regularly contributes to L&I’s social media campaign. He earned his BA and MBA from Pacific Lutheran University.

Meet your local L&I representative and the entire Washington Small Business Liaison team at the “How Washington State Can Help Your Business” session at Biz Fair on Saturday, September 29 at Renton Technical College. More info at www.bizfair.org.

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