Staff of the Little Tokyo Service Center have noticed a recent rise in scam phone calls purporting to be from the IRS.
Japanese Americans, particularly Japanese speakers and those with Japanese first and last names, have reported receiving phone calls from someone claiming that they owe taxes.
The phone calls originate from a 202 area code, which is in the Washington, D.C. area. The scammers threaten to file a police report or contact immigration if the victim doesn’t pay the IRS.
“LTSC has been contacted by people who are afraid and don’t know what to do,” said Ayumi Nagata of LTSC’s Social Services Department. “The scammers are very aggressive. One person said he was called more than 10 times in one day.”
In another instance, a victim stated that the scammer provided her with instructions to wire transfer money. She was so fearful of getting in trouble with the authorities that she did not even consider the possibility of a scam until she had already sent the money.
In March of this year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a statement warning of the “largest ever” phone scam of its kind with callers fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS. According to the statement, “the IRS usually first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes. And the IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone.”
Many have observed that the scammers seem to be targeting people with “foreign-sounding” names. “In general, scammers assume that immigrants are more likely to respond out of fear because they are less familiar with the American system and less comfortable with English,” said Amy Phillips, director of senior services at LTSC.
People who receive such calls should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 or online at www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. It is also a good idea to inform the local police.
Those who think they might legitimately owe taxes or who have received a tax bill can call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to settle payment issues.
For additional assistance or information to help avoid scams, contact LTSC’s Social Services Department at (213) 473-3035.