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News : Telephone Scam Hits Employees, Volunteers of Seattle Archdiocese
WASHINGTON, March 31, 2014 — A nationwide telephone scam targeting taxpayers that is being investigated by federal agencies has involved more than 1,000 current and former employees and volunteers of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Greg Magnoni, archdiocesan communications director, told Catholic News Service March 28 that forensics experts hired by the archdiocese have joined investigators from the Internal Revenue Service and FBI in attempting to determine how personal information from the employees and volunteers was obtained.
The IRS said the victims are among thousands nationwide who have lost more than $1 million in recent months in the scam.
According to the agency, individuals claiming to be IRS agents place unsolicited calls to people and tell them they owe taxes. They are told they must pay immediately by pre-paid debit card or a wire transfer or they could face arrest or deportation or lose their business.
"The IRS and FBI are continuing their investigations. We're cooperating with them to get to the bottom of this. It's a multipronged investigation at this point to get to the source of the problem," Magnoni said.
The archdiocese established a call center for victims, Magnoni said. Information is available online at bit.ly/1fXOePM.
"We've sent out emails to as many individuals as we could. We've set up special email address to report a problem and encourage people to make sure it is reported to appropriate law enforcement agencies," the spokesman said.
"We're doing all that we can to give people an idea of what steps have been taken so far and what steps they can take to protect themselves," Magnoni added.
The archdiocese also scheduled a series of regional meetings with IRS representatives to provide information about tax identify fraud to victims and others who may have been contacted by the operation. Meetings were set for March 31, April 3 and April 7. Two earlier meetings also were organized.
In a March 17 letter, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain confirmed the scam hit employees and volunteers, but could not explain how personal data of those affected was obtained by the scammers.
"The IRS, FBI and our private security firm are each investigating and cooperating with each other. Despite that, at present we simply do not know how the problem originated, whether from our systems within the archdiocese -- including parishes and schools -- or systems of vendors or another outside source," the letter said.
The IRS warned consumers about the scam in an Oct. 31 statement and online video. The agency described how the scam works:
A caller tells an individual they owe money to the IRS and that it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. An individual is warned that if they do not cooperate they are subject to arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver's license. At times, the caller becomes hostile or insulting.
Using false names and IRS badge numbers, the caller may even be able to recite the last four digits of a victim's Social Security number. The operation is sophisticated enough to spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID and even send false IRS emails after the call.
After threatening an individual with a penalty, someone from the operation calls again soon after pretending to be from a local police department or state motor vehicle department. Again the caller ID supports the claim.
The IRS said it never calls people who owe back taxes first, preferring instead to initially contact them by mail.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Archdiocese of Seattle:
The Archdiocese of Seattle is an archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. state of Washington. Headquartered in Seattle, the archdiocese encompasses all counties in the state west of the Cascade Range.
Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014