WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department has arrested five people in Miami accused of posing as IRS agents in telephone calls and demanding immediate payment of overdue taxes, a scheme that netted them an estimated $2 million, a top official said Tuesday.
J. Russell George, who heads the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration office, said Tuesday that the five defrauded about 1,500 people.
The IRS has called similar impersonators the largest such scam in agency history. George said overall, 1.2 million Americans have reported receiving such calls, and around 6,400 of them have reported being cheated out of $36.5 million.
The callers pose as IRS or Treasury agents and demand immediate payment of back taxes or other fees, threatening arrest if they don't. George said some scammers demand that people pay using iTunes or other prepaid debit cards.
The five arrested had their victims quickly wire them money — something George said the IRS does not do.
Sahil Patel of Tatamy, Pennsylvania, was sentenced last July to more than 14 years in prison for leading a similar scheme that prosecutors said victimized people in nearly every state.
The five arrested Monday were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, George said.
He identified them as Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Roberto Fontanella Caballero.
A senior official with the office said they began investigating those arrested Monday after one victim complained to the Senate Aging Committee.
That official said the five all live in Miami and are Cuban nationals. He spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details he wasn't authorized to discuss publicly.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Aging panel, said in a statement that her committee contacted Treasury investigators after hearing from a woman whose distraught husband had an auto accident after receiving a scammer's call instructing him to wire $2,000.