US Attorney: Scammers beware

U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez shows an example of an email tax scam to defraud taxpayers during a news conference on Wednesday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The message on the other end of the line sounds official, and gains authenticity by providing the listener with the real number of the Internal Revenue Service’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The listener is told to call the number to make a payment and avoid a lawsuit.

Or a person gets an email with an official IRS logo and is asked to enter some personal information for his or her tax refund. Clicking on a hyperlink allows the crooks to infiltrate the victim’s computer and search for personal records.

Those are just some of the recent scams that federal authorities say have been reported in recent weeks. The IRS sees an uptick in scams in which criminals pretend to be part of the agency during tax season, from Jan. 23 through April 18, Ismael Nevarez Jr., the special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigations in New Mexico and Arizona, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Nevarez said the IRS will only contact someone with an official letter through the mail, and never by phone, email or text.

“These scams are a big business, a lucrative business for criminals who prey on unsuspecting victims,” said Damon Martinez, U.S. attorney in New Mexico.

Martinez and Nevarez hosted the news conference along with local law enforcement officials to talk about recent scams that have been circulating and to put scammers “on notice,” Martinez said.

“What you are doing is criminal. We are paying attention, and we are investigating,” he said.

Martinez said since October 2013, about 100,000 people have fallen victim to different scams and have lost more than $54 million across the country.  In New Mexico, 58 victims reported losing more than $172,000 in that same time. And he said that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg — many people don’t report scams because they’re either embarrassed or didn’t realize they had fallen victim.

“They are preying off people who want to do the right thing,” Martinez said.

In New Mexico, federal authorities have prosecuted several IRS-based scam cases in recent years.

Maria Ceniceros, of Anthony, got an 18-month sentence in 2016, for a scheme in which identities were stolen and tax refund checks were issued without the person’s consent. Andre Lewis, of Santa Fe, got 30 months in prison in 2015 and had to pay the IRS more than $118,000 for a different scheme involving fraudulent tax returns.

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