IRS impersonation scam’s alleged mastermind arrested, but the criminal calls continue

Indian police on Saturday, April 8, arrested the man they believe is the mastermind behind what has been called the most pervasive U.S. tax scam ever.

But although he’s in custody, his alleged criminal legacy continues.

Older person falling victim to tax phone scam_IRS

On Monday, April 10, the Internal Revenue Service issued yet another warning about phone scams and email phishing schemes.

International arrest: Sagar “Shaggy” Thakkar was arrested at the Mumbai airport as he re-entered India this past weekend, according to various international reports.

Indian law enforcement say Thakkar, who allegedly started scam call facilities in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, had fled the country and traveled to Dubai and Bangkok after raids on the Indian call sites last October.

Police in India say that the 24-year-old suspect confessed to his involvement in the scheme. Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh added that he personally is “impressed with [the suspect’s] knowledge of the U.S. and Indian system.”

U.S. charges to come? There has been no official comment yet from U.S. law enforcement agencies on the arrest. However, if the case against Thakkar is indeed strong, we probably can expect federal follow-up here.

After the Indian raids, the U.S. Department of Justice charged 61 people and entities for their alleged involvement in the transnational criminal scam operation of which Thakkar is the alleged mastermind.

Despite jail, calls continue: Regardless of whether Thakkar and others already charged are eventually convicted and serve time in jail, their scheme will continue with other criminal participants.

“These scammers continue to adapt and evolve, and the IRS continues to receive reports of these schemes using multiple languages trying to find victims across the country,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement announcing the latest scam alert.

Fewer, but still some, fake IRS agent calls: While the number of fake IRS agent calls did drop after last fall’s raids on the Indian call centers, they never went away completely.

This week the IRS announced that it is still getting reports of scam calls aimed at U.S. taxpayers whose English is limited. Con artists often approach these victims in their native language and then threaten them with deportation, police arrest and/or revocation of the scam target’s driver’s or professional license if they do not pay the fake tax bills.

The tip-off that the call is a scam is that the callers demand the money be sent to them, not the IRS or U.S. Treasury, on preloaded debit cards, gift cards or as wire transfers.

“Don’t be fooled. Regardless of the language being used, the IRS won’t be calling out of the blue to verify your personal tax information or threaten you to make an immediate tax payment using a specific method of payment, such as on a pre-paid debit card,” Koskinen said.

Identity theft ploy: In another variation of the phone scam, the crooks seek their victims’ personal information instead of immediate money.

The IRS says the scammers pretending to be IRS agents politely begin asking taxpayers to verify their identity over the phone. The reason, say the con artists, is that they need to verify a few details to process the victim’s tax return.

The fake IRS agents also may tell their victims they have a refund due which cannot be sent without the person confirming some tax and personal data.

The real reason is so that the identity thieves can trick their victims into sharing Social Security numbers, bank or credit cards numbers and other personal financial information. This then will be used to file future fraudulent tax returns seeking fake refunds or to open new private financial accounts using the victims’ identities.

These con artists can sound convincing, warns the IRS. They use fake names and IRS identification numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official. They often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling.

Skepticism recommended: If you get such a call, be suspicious. Don’t provide any information. Definitely don’t send any money in any form.

Just hang up. And don’t return a purported IRS message left on your answering machine.

Instead, if you have any reason to believe you might really owe taxes, call Uncle Sam’s tax agency directly. A real IRS employee there will help you.

The IRS also provides more information on phone scams at its website. You can always find reports of scams and identity theft schemes here on the ol’ blog.

You also might find these items of interest:

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