Crime

Police: Wave of tax scam calls hits Bellingham

The Internal Revenue Service Headquarters building in Washington, D.C. in 2013. Bellingham police have received reports of telephone scam calls where the caller poses as the IRS and threatens arrest if people don’t pay overdue taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service Headquarters building in Washington, D.C. in 2013. Bellingham police have received reports of telephone scam calls where the caller poses as the IRS and threatens arrest if people don’t pay overdue taxes. Associated Press

Scammers are trying to scare Bellingham residents into thinking the IRS is after them, according to police.

The police department has taken “lots of calls” about an automated message from the Internal Revenue Service — or so the message says — threatening arrest if you don’t call a phone number to pay overdue taxes, said Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.

It’s a hoax.

For one thing, the IRS always sends tax notices via snail mail. And the agency never calls with urgent, out-of-the-blue demands for cash.

Phone scammers do, though, and often they target the elderly.

Pat Rains, a caregiver, said she happened to pick up the phone Monday, instead of her 95-year-old client. A threatening automated message on the other end told her, in a woman’s voice, the IRS was suing and that she needed to call a number, 509-320-4239, or else.

That number, based in Eastern Washington, has been linked to other waves of scam calls in recent months, according to forums where Web users post about unwanted calls.

Rains’ client had gotten the same automated call at least three times before: twice a few months ago, once in the past week.

Other area codes tied to the recent local scam calls are 202 and 617 — Washington D.C. and Boston — but they could come from anywhere, police said. Lately some of the more tech-savvy scammers have even disguised their phone numbers so they look more legitimate on caller ID, like a federal number, or the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to the IRS.

If you suspect you’ve gotten a scam call:

▪  Don’t give out any sensitive financial information.

▪  Call the real IRS at 1-800-829-1040, to find out if you truly do owe money.

▪  Make a report with the local police.

For more info on tax scams, visit IRS.gov.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.

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