Latest Scam: Pay your back taxes by iTunes
The Beatles had a song about the Taxman.
"Be thankful I don't take it all," the lyrics go. "'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman."
Flash forward 50 years to all those IRS impersonation calls. We better add another verse: "Oh, yeah, I'm the scam man."
The federal government warned consumers in late April that scammers are singing a new tune when they're pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Treasury. Now, some are demanding that you pay your back taxes via an iTunes gift card.
Yes, an iTunes card.
I've been warning about the crooks who pretend to be from the IRS for a few years now. The scam can take various forms. At one point, the IRS warned that the crooks might try mailing or faxing falsified forms to seem more legitimate.
Sometimes, the fraudsters sound like the real deal because they rattle off your Social Security number, or at least the last four digits, so it might appear like they know what they're talking about here.
And many are very aggressive and downright nasty when they threaten jail time and demand money on the spot.
But now, they want money on an iTunes card. In some cases, fraudsters can use an iTunes card to buy a product or they can re-sell those cards online, according to Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911.
Levin said scammers also have asked victims of the so-called Grandparents Scam to load money onto multiple iTunes gift cards.
"Vulnerable senior citizens who believe their grandchild is in danger and that they must pay to get them out of jail or harm's way are then directed by the fraudster over the phone to read them the serial numbers off the back of the card,"- Adam Levin "Theft 911"
The fraudster then uses that information to sell the gift cards online and receive cash.
Levin offered another iTunes related warning: Consumers would be wise to avoid the scam man who is peddling a promotion for an iTunes card via social media or a spoofed email. If you click on that link, you'd download a malware-infected link and the fraudster can get access to bank account information.
Tax officials in Canada have issued similar warnings. Calgary police reported that a woman was defrauded after putting $20,000 on iTunes cards in order to avoid a threat of jail time for unpaid taxes. She reportedly received a call April 20 from the Canada Revenue Agency.
The caller told the victim he was at the courthouse attempting to have the arrest warrant removed, according to the Calgary police.
"He then noted that the warrant had been re-issued and once again told the victim that more money was required to have the arrest warrant removed," the police said in a statement.
The con artist was convincing enough to scare the woman into going to her bank to withdraw more money. But then she also contacted a family member to ask for money, too.
"The family member contacted police, who were able to locate the victim and stop the fraud," the police said.
In the past, we've heard of scammers demanding tax dollars owed on Green Dot Prepaid Cards, MoneyPak Prepaid Cards, Reloadit Prepaid Debit Cards, and the like. It's a scammers currency of choice because they get access to the money on the prepaid cards without being traced.
I have been to some drugstores in the past few months where there's actually a "Consumer Alert" on the shelf relating to MoneyPak scams.
"Green Dot MoneyPaks can be targets for phone scammers," the alert at a Rite Aid store in Ferndale, Mich., read last fall.
The notice warned consumers that it's a scam if you receive a phone call from any agency, such as the IRS or a utility, saying you owe money and demanding payment for that bill with a MoneyPak.
"Never give out a MoneyPak or any personal information or financial information over the phone," the notice posted on the store shelf said.
And now we can add iTunes and taxes to that list of warnings.
"Any call requesting that taxpayers place funds on an iTunes Gift Card or other prepaid cards to pay taxes and fees is an indicator of fraudulent activity," according to a bulletin from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
Regulators say consumers should be wary of a variety of so-called "money transfer" scams, where you put money onto a prepaid card or wire money.
The Federal Trade Commission warned earlier that various schemes can be used by the con artists. Maybe you won a prize but have to pay "taxes" on it with a prepaid card. Or a friend or grandchild is in trouble and needs your help, again with a money transfer such as a MoneyGram. Or maybe suddenly there's a way for you to get a loan -- even if you have bad credit -- but you'd have to pay a relatively small fee upfront.
"Whatever the pitch, the caller’s only goal is to get your money — not to give you something in return," the FTC said in an alert.
When it comes to tax schemes, the callers frighten you into thinking the only way to get out of trouble is to pay quickly. But that's not true.