Officials: Scammers ramping up efforts during tax time

Published: Mar. 10, 2014 at 9:02 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2014 at 9:02 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Columbia man was close to falling for a scam after he received a phone call claiming he owed money to the IRS.

Harry Patel took several increasingly threatening phone calls over the course of several days with each saying legal action was being taken again him.

Patel eventually called one of the numbers back. The man on the line told him he was with a crime investigative unit of the IRS.

"And then he said, 'This call is recorded. We have a warrant out for you there for not paying taxes. A warrant for your arrest. Right,'" said Patel.  "I said, 'Taxes? I pay my taxes all the time. It's paid and I have all the records.'"

Despite that confident statement, Patel was told someone would be to his house to arrest him if he didn't comply with payment within 30 minutes to an hour.

"Luckily I didn't have a heart attack," said Patel. "I have high blood pressure, but I just picked up my bags and I just left. Got my wallet and ran out like someone's chasing me."

Patel ran to his accountant, who eased his fears and told him the call was fake. But Patel's initial reaction is proof of how real those calls can be for the unsuspecting.

"And that time-sensitive offer usually makes people go ahead and do what they're asking because they don't want to get in trouble," said Juliana Harris with the state Consumer Affairs Department.

Harris says her office is alerted to about 150 scam calls a month. Plenty of people fall for the tricks with many forking over more money than some make in a whole year.

According to Harris, people should be extra careful this time of year with tax season because scammers posing as the IRS or other government agencies will likely ramp up their efforts.

"We just want people to kind of be weary around tax time," said Harris. "If you're getting emails or calls, it's best to just hang up and not respond to them."

Speaking of phone calls, Patel called up one of the original numbers that dialed him. It was not in service.

"I was so relieved once I found out this was not legit," said Patel.

Patel is also relieved he didn't pay up before learning the truth.

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