By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Betty Ann Canizio heard a disturbing message on her telephone answering machine when she came home from work on Thursday.
“It was someone claiming they were from the Internal Revenue Service saying that a warrant had been issued for my husband. The person leaving the message said my husband was under federal investigation and said we should call them immediately. They even gave a warrant number,” Canizio said.
Canizio, who is the Democratic District Leader of the 49th Assembly District in Bensonhurst and serves as a key aide to Assemblyman Peter Abbate, is savvy about governmental operations, so she didn’t become alarmed.
She immediately smelled a scam. “The IRS doesn’t call you. They would send you a letter,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle.
But she decided to call the Washington D.C. number the caller left anyway. “And when I called them, they answered the phone, ‘IRS.’ They told me that my husband was under investigation by the US Department of Homeland Security of all things. I told them that they were talking to the wrong person if they thought they could frighten me,” she said.
Her husband has never been in any kind of trouble, she said.
Canizio suspected that the “IRS agents" were going to tell her to send money to them in order to clear up her husband’s non-existent problem.
She was too wise for them.
“It was obviously a scam. I was too smart to fall for it. But I worry that these people are out there doing this. I know how the government works, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t and they could fall for it,” Canizio said.
Canizio, who contacted the 62nd Precinct, to told the Eagle that she wanted to warn the public about the scam.
Tax time is right around the corner and there are crooks out there looking to steal money from law-abiding taxpayers, according to IRS officials, who urged consumers to be aware of possible scams.
Officials said that many of the scammers are sophisticated con artists who often pose as IRS agents. They tell victims that they owe money to the IRS that must be paid immediately through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are threatened with arrest, deportation (if they are immigrants) or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting, according to IRS officials.
"Taxpayers should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement issued on Feb. 19. “These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.”
USA Today reported on Wednesday that the jail time threat is one of the “Dirty Dozen” scams IRS officials are warning the public about.
The IRS Criminal Investigation unit works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expose the scams and prosecute the criminals.
Here are some of the ways scammers operate, according to the IRS: using fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames; spoofing the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear as if it is the IRS calling; sending bogus IRS emails to victims to support their bogus calls.
After threatening victims with jail time, scammers will often hang up and within a few minutes, others soon call back pretending to be from the local police, IRS officials said.
IRS officials said they want consumers who are targeted by the scammers to know the following: if you know you owe back taxes, you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. IRS employees can help with a payment issue; and consumers who know for sure that they don’t owe taxes and have never received a bill from the IRS, should call and report the incident to the US Treasury Department at 1-800-366-4484.