Federal officials continue to battle phone scammers

University Student Legal Services say international students are often targeted.

Benjamin Farniok

When Andrew Tagge got a call from scammers claiming to be IRS agents threatening to sue if he didn’t pay, he got nervous.
The environmental science, policy and management junior was the target of a phishing scam, and when he questioned the callers, they would only threaten to prosecute him unless they got their money. 
Tagge, along with other University of Minnesota students, have been targets of scams, and state and federal officials are trying to keep up.
Mark Karon, attorney and director for University Student Legal Service said international students at the school are often targets of phone calls saying they failed to pay an “international tax.” 
But once they come to student legal services, they discover the tax doesn’t exist.
“They should come to us if they have given out any kind of information,” he said.
The service helps students contact agencies like the IRS to investigate potential scams and protect them from identity theft, Karon said.
Tagge said he was able to figure out the scheme was phony fairly easily but was concerned other more vulnerable targets could be less savvy.
“I think [victims would] go pretty far before they got to stop, or maybe they wouldn’t stop at all,” he said.
Over the following two weeks, Tagge received three more calls from two different numbers but stopped answering his phone.
In the last year, the Minnesota Department of Revenue has caught wind of nine different scams to get money and personal information from victims.
However, MDR Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly said there were likely more they never heard about.
The target of individual scams will vary, Bauerly said, and don’t seem to be restricted by age, race or sex.
“This is happening across the country and at the federal level as well,” she said.
Bauerly said a recent scam targeted human resources representatives by posing as the head of a company and requesting W2 tax forms, which she said contain everything needed to file a false tax return.
Bauerly said it was common in the past for scammers to use the information to open credit cards. 
Now, she said, they increasingly rely on fake tax returns.
If scammers successfully convince someone to give out personal information, Bauerly said, they should immediately contact the IRS as well as the Federal Trade Commission to warn officials that a false tax return filing may show up under their name.
The department often learns of scams when they are reported by people who were targeted, which can make them difficult to track down.
If personal information, such as someone’s Social Security information, does get out, the FTC recommends filing taxes early to beat scammers and to check credit reports to find unrecognized charges.