Fake IRS agents have targeted people with harassing phone calls demanding payments and threatening jail as part of a huge nationwide tax scam that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Fake IRS agents have targeted people with harassing phone calls demanding payments and threatening jail as part of a huge nationwide tax scam that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
May 30, 2016 at 7:13 AM EDT

Scams against seniors and retirees are still rampant. Financial fraud against seniors is estimated to cost about $3 billion a year, according to a MetLife study. And one of the biggest scams this past year has been the IRS impersonation scam.

Here’s how it works: Victims receive a telephone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS. They are told that they will be arrested if they do not make a payment immediately. That and other methods of intimidation are used to persuade the victims to wire money, using MoneyGram, Walmart and other wire services. 

The Senate Committee on Aging estimates that nearly 1 million people have be targeted and 5,000 people lost $26 million last year.

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Now, Sen. Susan Collins, chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, a leader in the fight against senior fraud, said the committee’s Fraud Hotline has resulted in five big arrests in the IRS scam.

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A hotline caller reported that her husband had been contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS who was demanding immediate payment of back taxes. The victim was told go to a local Walmart and wire nearly $2,000 via MoneyGram.  The man was apparently so distraught that on his way to Walmart he crashed his car. Then he left the scene of the accident to send the payment because he was so afraid of the scammer’s threats of legal action, the senator’s office said.

After tracing the money transfer, Treasury agents arrested the five suspects in Miami on May 23 for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the report.  Court documents say the suspects are responsible for nearly $2 million in schemes that defrauded more than 1,500 victims.

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Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, said in a statement that the IRS impersonation scam continues to sweep the country and has resulted in reported taxpayer losses of more than $36 million, averaging more than $5,700 in losses per taxpayer.

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The five arrested are: Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz and Roberto Fontanella Caballero.

“No legitimate United States Treasury or IRS official will demand that anyone make payments via MoneyGram, Western Union, Walmart or any other money wiring method, for any debt to the IRS or the Department of the Treasury,” George said.  “Nor will the Department of the Treasury demand that anyone pay a debt or secure one by using iTunes cards or other prepaid debit cards,” he said, adding.

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He said callers should hang up immediately and report the call at the TIGTA scam reporting page. The Aging Committee also produced a report last year on the top 10 scams aimed at seniors. The IRS scam was listed at No. 1. Scams can be reported to the Senate Aging Committee Fraud Hotline: (1-855-303-9470).

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Do you know the interest rate on your debt?

A new national study commissioned by WisePiggy.com and conducted online by Harris Poll shows that among those who have any debt, 83 percent know the interest rates on any of their debts, but only 49 percent know the interest rate on credit cards. Other findings:

  • Only two in five (40 percent) know the interest rate on their mortgage
  • One third (33 percent) know the interest rate on their auto loan
  • Roughly one in five (19 percent) know the interest rate on their student loan

Question of the Week

Retirees. Did you retire too early, too late, or at just the right age?

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Michelle Singletary’s last column: To prosper, create a financial rulebook

Write Brooks at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or rodney.brooks@washpost.com. On Twitter @Perfiguy. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go
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