CBS News reports that criminals make an estimated 10,000 IRS scam phone calls each week and that the scammers are ruthless in preying on Americans’ fear of the IRS’s unique and expansive power. Not only is the IRS the “the most feared federal agency in the country,” but it’s also deemed by the majority of Americans as “frequently” abusing its power, an abuse with which Tea Party groups and conservatives are well aware.

Happily, Indian police have busted a large IRS phone “scam center” located in three buildings on the outskirts of Mumbai.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. authorities have struggled to combat an epidemic of swindlers targeting taxpayers. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an IRS watchdog, said it has received more than 1.7 million complaints in the last three years from people reporting phone calls from swindlers impersonating IRS agents. More than 8,800 victims have paid more than $47 million as a result of these scams, it added.”

The Wall Street Journal continues:

Police said three nondescript office buildings on the edge of this booming Mumbai suburb were packed with hundreds of people posing as Internal Revenue Service officials in a scam that has vexed Americans for years.

Authorities arrested 70 people Wednesday alleging they helped manage nine call-centers where around 700 people made thousands of calls a day to try to trick Americans into sending them money.

Police raided the buildings Tuesday night, authorities said. Witnesses near one of the buildings said employees who were assumed to be doing the standard kind of call center work such as helping people manage their bank accounts or buy insurance emerged in police custody covering their faces to hide their identities.

Police said the call center workers had one job: dial people in the U.S., accuse them of failing to pay their taxes and threaten them with jail time if they didn’t pay up immediately. Police didn’t give an estimate on how much money the operation netted, but the ability to employ hundreds of English-speaking people suggests it had significant revenue.

“You can call it a scam center,” said Parag Manere, a deputy commissioner of police in Thane, just east of Mumbai.

The IRS has long been issuing warnings about a phone scam in which the caller identifies himself as an IRS agent and threatens arrest and imprisonment or a lawsuit if supposed unpaid taxes are not paid immediately.

As the IRS notes in its 2013 warning, these scammers are quite sophisticated and can mimic IRS and local police phone numbers on caller id.  Having received one of these calls that went to voicemail, I can add that the scammer who targeted me wanted me call the “IRS arrest line” as soon as I got their message so I could either pay up or presumably request to be arrested instead.  It was completely ludicrous, as are the IRS phone scams asking that people pay via iTunes gift cards, but there are more clever IRS scammers out there who do frighten people into paying them.

The IRS warns that these calls take place throughout the year and advises that it will never solicit payment by telephone, nor will it demand immediate (i.e. within two hours or else) payment followed by threats of jail time.

Note that the IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

These scams, however, are likely to continue and, worse, to continue to be successful for as long as the IRS retains its dubious distinction of being the most feared and distrusted federal agency in America.