There are a number of topics, beginning with politics and religion, that families may want to avoid this holiday season, but there's one subject that law enforcement officials say should definitely be addressed -- scams that target the unsuspecting and the elderly.
"We encourage families to have a conversation about how to avoid becoming a victim of a financial scam," said 7th Judicial District attorney Dan Hotsenpiller. Hotsenpiller, the sheriffs, police chiefs and marshals of western Colorado are partnering with Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation to raise awareness about IRS impersonation scams. Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents are seen as a major threat to unsuspecting citizens. The elderly, who are often more trusting, frequently fall victim.
According to Mindy Wilgus, the public information officer for IRS Criminal Investigation, losses through June 2018 totaled $1.4 million across the state of Colorado. A total of 308 victims were involved.
"That's reported loss, so we know the number is much higher than that," she said via telephone with the DCI and the district attorney's office.
The IRS is working closely with local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and IRS special agents to hunt down and prosecute those who prey on our neighbors, but as long as people pay money, there will be scammers. Often these scammers operate overseas, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.
Prevention is paramount. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to be aware of tactics scammers use and how the IRS conducts business with taxpayers.
• Generally, if you owe taxes the IRS will send you a bill in the mail.
• The IRS will not demand payment without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount you owe.
• The IRS will not demand immediate, over the phone, payment by wire transfer, gift cards or prepaid debit cards.
• The IRS will not ask for credit card numbers or bank account information over the phone.
• The IRS will not threaten to bring in local police or other law enforcement to have you arrested or immediately seize your assets.
• If you are contacted by IRS impersonators, your first step is to hang up -- do not engage.
And if you do fall victim to a scam, do not hesitate to report the incident to your local law enforcement agency.
"We can work with the IRS and do our best to prosecute these offenders," Hotsenpiller said, but the reality is, it's very difficult to track down the offenders and even more difficult to recover any money.
That's why his office is working with local law enforcement agencies to educate the community about the importance of prevention.
While these scams are attempted year-round, Wilgus said the IRS does anticipate an uptick after the first of the year and continuing through tax season. The IRS generally sees a surge in scam phone calls that threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocations and other penalties.
To avoid any type of con game, never give out personal information over the phone. If you receive an email asking for verification of personal information, do not reply and do not click on any links. for those with caller ID, phone calls often appear to originate in the local area. Likewise, emails can look very authentic, down to a bank's logo. Do not be fooled into giving out personal information.
If you want to confirm IRS contact, find out if you owe taxes or review payment plan options, call 800-829-1040.
If you want to report the incident and help combat scammers, visit www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. Tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even businesses can fall victims to scams. Wilgus reports that scammers visit a company website to obtain the name of the human resources director, then send a message purported to be from the company president asking for copies of all W2s from the previous year. This information is then used to file fraudulent tax returns or is sold on the dark web. The IRS has established a special email notification adderess specifically for employers to report W-2 data thefts: email@example.com.
While the IRS Criminal Investigation special agents are primarily located in Denver, they often attend law enforcement summits on the Western Slope to raise awareness. Stopping identity theft and protecting the assets of western Colorado citizens is a priority for all involved.
"These scams would not be happening if they didn't work, and they work just enough for these people to make a whole lot of money," said Duane Morton, lead investigator for the 7th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
• Protect your information. Do not carry a Social Security card. Treat personal information like cash; don't leave it lying around.
• Do not provide personal information without knowing who you are giving it to and for what purpose.
• Learn to recognize aned avoid phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posting as legitimate organizations such as a bank, credit card company and government organizations. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
• Use firewalls and anti-virus software on computers.
• Change passwords frequently.