The latest scammer tool to pry money from unsuspecting college students? Try iTunes gift cards.
That’s the unpleasant truth from the Internal Revenue Service about a tactic cropping up around the country at the start of the school year.
The IRS issued a warning Aug. 18 that tax agency impersonators were contacting college students and demanding to be paid immediately to cover a bogus “federal student tax.”
The crooks, according to the IRS, were telling students or their parents that they could either wire the tax money owed through Western Union, MoneyGram or other services, or place funds on iTunes gift cards to pay off the tax and fees.
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The callers reportedly said funds also could be Green Dot, MoneyPak and Reloadit prepaid debit cards.
If the student or parent balked, the IRS said, scammers would turn aggressive and threaten to contact the police for an arrest.
However crazy it sounds, there must be victims, although the IRS doesn’t have any data yet.
The IRS initially alerted taxpayers in the spring to be aware of this scam, but the agency felt con artists would be turning up the heat now that students are back on campus.
“Although variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round, they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement. “As students and parents enter the new school year, they should remain alert to bogus calls.”
To be perfectly clear, the IRS said, there is no such thing as a federal student tax.
For all their tech savvy, college students are inviting targets because most have little or no familiarity with filing tax returns. And the start of the school year is a perfect time for crooks to strike because students are on classwork and social overload and have their guard down.
This latest tax scam is different from the one I wrote about early this year that promised college students fatter refunds and faster tax returns. That one left students exposed to financial and personal identification losses.
Michael Devine, an IRS spokesman in St. Louis, said the agency has gotten reports of scam calls from across the country.
He said scammers often alter the caller ID number, in essence “spoofing” to hide where they are and make it seem like the IRS or another government agency is calling.
“The criminals ... can be anywhere,” Devine said.
To avoid being victimized, never give out credit card or debit card numbers over the phone, the IRS said.
In addition, the IRS said it will never demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount. The agency also will never threaten to bring in law enforcement or have you arrested for not paying.
And, to the heart of this latest scam, the IRS will never demand immediate payment using a prepaid debit card, an iTunes gift card or a wire transfer. Rather, the IRS will simply mail you a bill if you owe taxes.
To report tax-related scam, contact the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page, or call 1-800-366-4484.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879