One of my favorite lines from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is a chilling utterance by the Borg, a predator that ruthlessly conquers other species.
In one episode, the Borg collective says the following to Capt. Jean-Luc Picard: “Strength is irrelevant. Resistance is futile.”
That last sentence always sends chills down my spine. And when it comes to one of the nastiest cons out there — IRS-impersonating scams — it might feel like there’s no use fighting back. Like the Borg, the con artists are scary, numerous and hard to defeat.
“The number of complaints we have received about this scam continue to climb, cementing its status as the largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of our agency,” according to testimony delivered during congressional hearings by top officials from the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
With this type of fraud so widespread, one reader, Norma from Washington, D.C., asked: “Is there a valid reason to bother reporting the scam? I fully expect to get more calls. I don’t want to waste my time with an agency if no action is possible.”
Your resistance is not futile.
Your reporting does help authorities. In fact, your assistance is part of a two-pronged “advise and disrupt strategy” to combat IRS impersonators, according to Timothy Camus, TIGTA’s deputy inspector general for investigations.
If someone calls claiming to be from the IRS demanding money for a tax bill, report it by going to treasury.gov/tigta. There is an online form. Or you can call the complaint hotline at 800-366-4484.
Reporting that you were a victim or that you received a call helps in some key ways, according to Camus.
● Providing the call-back number can lead to arrests. Since caller ID numbers can be spoofed, the telephone number that people are told to call back helps investigators. After all, this is where the bad guys are sitting waiting to ensnare victims. So, please, report the call-back number.
After I received a call, I reported the number I was given—1-876-387-5721. A few days after I submitted my complaint, and as part of my reporting on this type of scam, I asked TIGTA to investigate the call-back number. Turned out it wasn’t functional by the time the agency researched it. But someone else had referenced that same number as being fraud-related, a spokesman
● It builds an evidentiary trail. Details matter in prosecutions. So write down what you’re being told. I took copious notes. Your notes of what was said assist authorities when they do catch the criminals.
● Telephone numbers are shut down. Camus said the agency works with the owners of the numbers to disable them. “This is a very valuable law enforcement component,” he said. “They may prevent other people from being scammed by using that number.”
The agency has shut down nearly 800 telephone numbers, representing 79 percent of the numbers reported to the agency, a spokesman said. Some of the numbers have been disabled within one week of being submitted.
● Scam attempts are catalogued. The agency collects the numbers used in trying to trick people. TIGTA is also working with other agencies — the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission — to combat this issue.
So when you see a suspicious number on your caller ID, search for it online using any search engine, and you might see that it’s been tagged as part of a scam alert.
TIGTA uses an automated dialer to make calls to reported telephone numbers. In a taped message, the scammers are told they are in violation of federal law and are advised to stop their fraudulent activity. So far, TIGTA has made more than 100,500 calls back to scammers.
I already know what you may be thinking. These con artists probably aren’t frightened off by some recorded message. And that may be true. But at least this ties up their phone lines and keeps them from making calls. This strategy costs them money. Make it too expensive to con people and hopefully they will shut down their operation.
“The IRS telephone impersonation scam remains one of TIGTA’s highest investigative priorities,” said J. Russell George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration. “We will continue to aggressively pursue the perpetrators.”
Truthfully, because so many people are falling for this fraud, it won’t go away easily. But together, by reporting each and every attempt, we can slow it down and hopefully save someone from being swindled. Our collective resistance is not futile.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or email@example.com. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.