Tax scam circulating area

If you have a landline telephone or even a cell phone, you might be familiar with the scams that are currently circulating the area.

Last week, the Middlesboro Daily News reported on a scam in Bell County involving a caller who claimed to be an employee of a popular satellite provider. The latest scam being reported is aimed at your tax refunds, with callers claiming to be from the IRS.

“The IRS does not operate over the phone like that; they do not call you,” said Middlesboro Police Department Chief Jeff Sharpe. “Anytime you get a call from someone saying they are from the Internal Revenue Service, just ignore it.”

Sharpe said that each year around this time they have an increase with these types of calls.

“A lot of people are targets for any of these scams right now because these scammers know that people are starting to get their tax refunds and they know they’ve got available money,” he said.

Sharpe stressed the importance of not giving out your personal information over the phone.

Attorney General Andy Beshear said scammers pretend to be an IRS agent claiming they need to verify the victim’s personal and financial information over the phone, or they claim the victim owes back taxes.

Once the scammer has the victim’s information, the criminal can steal tax returns and other funds by changing the deposit to a reloadable money card.

“Anytime someone is asking for your personal information, especially your banking information, or tells you that they will send you money if you will send them money, that is a red flag right there,” Sharpe said. “Do not participate. Be careful of what you say and who you say it to, then you’ll be OK.”

Authorities recommend following these tips to avoid falling victim to scammers: Never share any personal or financial information over the phone, and know that the IRS and other local, state and federal agencies will never call and request money over the phone, or ask you to send money via wire transfer, cash or gift cards. If you receive a call from someone pretending to be with a local, state or federal agency, hang up and independently verify the correct number and dial it.

“The whole phone scam has become a separate category of crime all over the country,” Sharpe said. “(Most times) they are far out of our jurisdiction and of course the federal authorities are working on these things and they can shut these down and then another one pops up. Really, it all begins and ends with your end of the phone.”

Sharpe said his department typically sees an increase in calls about tax scams as the season progresses.

“It’s a little early still yet but it starts and then it will increase throughout the end of tax season,” he said. “We do though get calls on a daily basis. People will call and ask us about a phone call they got. They ask us if we think it’s a scam and most of the time, we concur.”

Sharpe said from an investigation standpoint, there is very little that they can do.

“We do keep in contact with federal authorities on what they are doing and they’ll send us some of the latest things that are going on so we can get that information out there,” he said. “The phone numbers are almost useless anymore because of the phone number cloning technology that is being used when these calls are being made.”

Sharpe encouraged residents to use common sense when dealing with a phone calls like these.

“Nobody operates on the telephone,” he said. “Your bank isn’t going to call and ask you for things on the phone and the IRS is definitely not going to call you and ask you for things on the phone. Anytime somebody asks you to wire money somewhere, that’s a red flag.”

If you believe that you have been a victim of a scam, you are encouraged to contact the Middlesboro Police Department at 606-248-2020 or the Bell County Sheriff’s Department at 606-337-3102.

You can also contact the IRS directly at 800-908-4490, or the Kentucky Department of Revenue at 502-564-4581.