Agents working with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have arrested five individuals who impersonated Internal Revenue Service employees and demanded payment from taxpayers.
TIGTA agents arrested the five suspects in Miami without incident Monday for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Roberto Fontanella Caballero are allegedly responsible for nearly $2 million in schemes that defrauded more than 1,500 victims.
Criminal complaints were filed in federal courts in Minnesota, Texas and Arkansas against the suspects. They have been referred to the Justice Department for prosecution and additional legal action.
“These arrests indicate that TIGTA is making significant progress in our investigation of the IRS impersonation scam that continues to sweep the country, resulting in reported taxpayer losses of more than $36 million, averaging more than $5,700 in losses per taxpayer,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “The scammers are relentless and so are we. Our investigators will not rest until we have brought each individual involved to justice.”
The suspects allegedly conspired with others to commit wire fraud by falsely impersonating IRS agents and demanding money under false pretenses. The scam victims received phone calls from people claiming to be from the IRS, who told them the IRS would arrest them if they did not make payment immediately. The callers made these threats and used other methods of intimidation to persuade the victims to wire money, using MoneyGram, Walmart and other wire services.
TIGTA has been monitoring and investigating the IRS impersonation scam since 2013, according to a senior TIGTA official who briefed reporters during a conference call Tuesday. To date, TIGTA has logged approximately 1.2 million calls reported by taxpayers, and nearly 6,400 people have reported that they were fleeced.
The criminals have continued to modify and change their script. In recent months, the scammers have been encouraging victims to pay the money using iTunes cards (see IRS Scammers Demand Payments on iTunes Cards). To date, TIGTA has received 328 reports of people using iTunes cards to pay the scammers.
In some cases, there has been an offshore component in the scams. TIGTA recently made arrests in two other cases in New York and California that had ties to India. In this case, the initial referral came from a complaint made by an elderly taxpayer in Minnesota, who contacted the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline last October.
The caller reported that her husband had recently been contacted by an individual claiming to be from the IRS and demanding immediate payment of alleged back taxes. The victim was instructed by the scammer to drive to his local Walmart to wire nearly $2,000 via MoneyGram. On his way to the retailer, the distraught victim crashed his car. The victim was so convinced that the scammer was an authentic IRS agent, however, that he left the scene of the accident to wire the payment in order to avoid the scammer’s threats of possible legal action. The Fraud Hotline investigator who received the victim’s report was able to trace the wire transfer to Minnesota and reported this information to TIGTA. Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the committee, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the committee, also were involved in the referral. TIGTA sent agents to Minnesota, pulled surveillance tapes, and quickly identified two suspects. TIGTA agents ultimately tracked the residence of the scammers to Miami.
“No legitimate United States Treasury or IRS official will demand that anyone make payments via MoneyGram, Western Union, Walmart or any other money wiring method, for any debt to the IRS or the Department of the Treasury,” George said. “Nor will the Department of the Treasury demand that anyone pay a debt or secure one by using iTunes cards or other prepaid debit cards. Hang up on these fraudulent callers and go to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration scam reporting page to report the call.”
Investigators verified the identity of the suspects and their activities through a variety of investigative procedures. TIGTA special agents conducted the investigations that led to the arrests of the suspects. TIGTA received assistance in one of the investigations from the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General.