MAHWAH, N.J. -- Pamela Stetson of Mahwah wasn't fooled by an automated phone call Wednesday that purported to come from the IRS. But with tax season in full swing, she fears others might be.
"My biggest concern is the elderly," the Daily Voice community advisor said. "When hear 'tax lien' or 'IRS,' they might be liable to call back right away."
Residents from throughout Bergen County -- from Dumont to Franklin Lakes -- reported similar calls Tuesday and Wednesday. So did people in Rockland.
"I know a half-dozen people in the Mahwah area who got them," Stetson said.
Suffern police issued an alert after a resident there got one.
"It's a recorded call that says something like: 'Do not hang up. This is the IRS. We're calling because we're collecting tax liens on your property'," said Stetson, a Realtor associate. "Then they leave you a phone number to call with a live person on the other end. They basically try to shake you down over the phone."
Stetson wasn't about to call back. But it made her wonder how often the ruse succeeds.
The answer: A lot.
An Emerson man in October 2014 sent $10,000 to phone scammers who conned him into thinking that he'd be arrested by the IRS.
“The scammer kept him on the phone the whole time,” using enough personal information "to give them some amount of credibility," Emerson Police Officer Joseph Alasio said at the time. “They told him he’d be charged with a crime if he hung up.”
“It’s a shame what these thieves do to people,” Alasio said. “It’s becoming way too commonplace.”
The IRS never calls anyone for money. It also doesn’t email anyone for Social Security numbers, birth dates, bank account numbers, passwords or other personal identification.
“The first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail,” the Internal Revenue Service says.
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If you think you owe the IRS money, call and ask the agency directly (800-829-1040). If you get a scam call, notify your local police department immediately. They don’t mind. That’s what they do.
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Con artists "may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling,” the IRS said. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.”
Last September, a Leonia police detective tracked down a pair of Indian nationals who authorities said stole more than $170,000 from 70 victims in 32 states through an I.R.S. scam.
"In some cases, the victims lost their life savings," Police Chief Thomas P. Rowe told Daily Voice at the time.
Such instances are rare, however. Local police don't have the resources to pursue such cases.