It took a big raid in India to slow down an IRS impostor scam that resulted in thousands of people, many of them retirees, being bilked out of millions of dollars.
The Better Business Bureau said last week that the hustle accounted for about one in four reports to its scam tracker. But the organization says it has seen a “dramatic drop” in new reports after police in Mumbai, India raided a call center earlier this month. Since then, complaints to the BBB Scam Tracker site have dropped 95 percent.
The IRS scam has been well reported in The Washington Post. I’ve written about it several times, as has my colleague Michelle Singletary. The scam involves con artists posing as IRS agents who tell their targets, most older Americans and retirees, that they owe back taxes and threaten them with arrest and penalties if they don’t pay immediately. And they demand payment through money orders or gift cards available at supermarkets or drug stores.
As Michelle wrote: “The IRS would not initiate a call to you about a tax debt. You would get a letter that is actually very polite and respectful. The agency mistakenly thought I owed back taxes. I got a letter. Then, I got another letter. What I never got was a telephone call. EVER!”
Police in India earlier this month said they had shut down nine call centers in Mumbai that had been bilking Americans, and arrested 70 people. The callers were trained to speak in American accents and were allegedly pulling in about $150,000 a day. If the scams went on for a year, that would amount to $55 million.
The IRS said it had received nearly 1 million complaints about the calls and said more than 5,000 people were victimized, paying more than $26 million in the scams.
“To immediately see the success of this raid reflected in our BBB Scam Tracker data is really remarkable, and validates our belief in the importance of using reports from the public to better understand the scam landscape,” says Emma Fletcher, manager of the scam tracker program. “But we know from past experience that scammers are opportunists. Hopefully this crew won’t be stealing from anyone again for a long while. but we will be keeping an eye on incoming scam reports so we can alert consumers what the next big thing in scams turns out to be.”
Question of the week: What’s the best advice you would give to someone about to retire? Send comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement advice.”
Last week’s question: Have you borrowed from or made emergency withdrawals from your retirement account? Do you regret it, or would you do it again?
Wendy Rice wrote
Yes, borrowed $6,000 to give to daughter to help with a down payment. The money ended up being used for a home improvement for my home. Basically costing me 1 percent, I make the monthly payments without stress. However, to pay it off I have to use after-tax dollars so it doesn’t make sense. Trying to check return on investment on account is confusing. I will pay it off with a chunk of windfall money this month ($4,000) just for clean recordkeeping. It’s too confusing and I like knowing the amount of money in the account and ROI. Can’t do that with this loan.
David Hunt wrote
I have taken out two maximum 401(k) loans to pay for my children’s college. I paid them back with interest. I saved a whole lot of interest I would have paid to banks. I also helped my credit rating since it didn’t count as debt. I would do it again, but no longer have any need.
Jackie Andrus of Rochester, N.Y. wrote
I have an interesting example of when I borrowed from my 401k. This was way back in the late’80s and I had been putting money in my 401k at the max of 15 percent for a couple of years. I was now going to buy my first house and knew I could not keep up that level of contribution. Since it was the old days before the Internet, I used to call in and “thought” I had discontinued my contributions. Way back then you could only change things every quarter. Well, the next quarter started and the money was still being withdrawn. I went to see our HR person and he said there was nothing we could do. I was at wits’ end since I knew my finances were going to be very tight with my house closing approaching.
But then I heard someone talking about refinancing their mortgage and they were going to take a loan to pay down the principle. Only downside was you could not contribute to your 401k back then if you had a loan. I went back to HR and laid out my plan to the HR guy. You see loans were allowed to be requested every month so I could take a loan and stop the pesky contributions within weeks rather than months! The HR person agreed it was possible (and not too pleased I had figured out a solution that he didn’t) and I filled out the paperwork for a $200 loan paying it off within 6 months! What a save!
Fran Moore Krebser of Huntley, Va. wrote
Yes, I have borrowed from my 401(k). In fact, I had to close it out and given the same circumstances, I would do it again. However, I regret that I needed to do it in the first place.
Back in 1985, I was the sole support for my two minor children and was in a major car accident coming home from working overtime one evening. I was laid up in the hospital for a month and at home for 10 months. It turned out my employer had not paid the medical insurance premiums that were due for my insurance and I did not find out until I was home from my stay. Because I was on crutches, casts, etc., and couldn’t drive, I needed to take a job closer to home at a lesser salary. In order to maintain some semblance of normalcy for my children, I needed to finally raid that pot.
I don’t believe you ever catch up. When it is gone, it is gone. You just have to start over again and remember what caused that need and do whatever you need to do to ensure you don’t hit that spot again.
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