The phone rings, and the caller claims to be with Chicago police and demands money to prevent arrest or deportation. So far, there are 20,000 complaints across the country- mostly immigrants- swindled out of a million dollars by bogus IRS agents and local cops. As we head into the last weekend of the tax season, the problem is escalating.
"My mother is a citizen but she always thinks she will get kicked out of the country," said Samah Azeez, targeted victim.
Azeez and her family emigrated from war-torn Iraq and says they take every threat seriously. Recently they received calls from two men, one impersonating an IRS agent, the other, a police officer. The men used detailed information about her sister's tax returns and said that she had to immediately pay back-taxes or they'd arrest her.
"They used information about her family; her daughter and her husband so you wouldn't think that somebody was playing you, you think it's serious," said Azeez.
Azeez and her family didn't hear about the tax scam and thought the callers were real.
"They were the IRS and Abir has to pay this amount of money, I think it was around $1,800, and then a few minutes later they get another call and they say we are the police and we are going to arrest you in 45 minutes if you don't pay that amount of money," said Azeez.
"They have called me 10-12 times so far. I looked up the caller ID of one of the calls and it said IRS under the name," said Aamir Chalisa, targeted victim.
Chalisa's family saved recordings of threats they've received. Chalisa knows members of the local Indian and Pakistani communities who have lost money to this scam because, he says, the warning is not getting around.
"It's so much worse than you can imagine," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. "They are going after them for thousands of dollars, it's not 10 dollars here or 20 dollars there, it's thousands of dollars at a time."
The Cook County Sheriff's police have opened at least a dozen cases, but Sheriff Dart says the scam is so prolific, people need to stay on alert.
"It's growing, it's getting bigger, we definitely see that," said Dart.
Chalisa quickly filed a report with his local police department.
"Naperville police was awesome, the detective I spoke to said they take these complaints seriously and have a whole database with phone numbers and names," said Chalisa.
Not all police departments are taking the threat- or victim's complaints- seriously, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago.
"We want the police to take this seriously," said Rabya Khan, staff attorney, CAIR Chicago.
CAIR Chicago has had a number of complaints that Chicago police discourage victims from filing police reports.
"She's like, 'We are not going to follow up on it, even if you report it, we are not going to do anything about it until they charge you the money.' She didn't want us to file the report and we insisted," said Azeez.
"I don't think the government agencies are doing enough to get ahead of this scam," said Khan.
This year, Naperville police have taken complaints averaging one per day. The Chicago police told the I-Team they have only taken a total of 20 and added, "there is nothing they can do about the problem."
CAIR'S attorney met with the head of the CAPS program to talk about the problem. According to CPD's news affairs Lieutenant Steven Sesso, "nothing in police procedure has changed since their meeting." The I-Team found that information about the scam isn't easy to come by. Neither the treasury department officials, the FBI or Chicago police have community alerts posted.
It's important to know that the IRS does not call or send emails. If you owe money to the IRS, you would be notified only through the mail.
What you should know to avoid becoming a victim:
- If you owe federal taxes, or think you may owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
- If you don't owe taxes, call and report the incident to the Treasury inspector general of tax administration at 1-800-366-4484.
- You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.
- If you get an email that's purportedly from the IRS, do not open any attachments or click on any links in the email. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact CAIR-Chicago and make a complaint with their Civil Rights Department
CAIR-Chicago: (312) 212-1520