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WASHINGTON -- Criminals impersonating the Internal Revenue Service have been defrauding people across the country, especially recent immigrants to the U.S., federal authorities said Tuesday.

Targets of the scam have been told they owe money to the IRS and that it must be paid immediately through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. Many are threatened with police arrest, deportation or driver s license revocation.

It s a particularly nasty scam for immigrants because many come from countries where they dare not question the government.

Nooshirvan Rose is from Iran. He's been in the U.S. for only a year and he's had scammers call him. They call and say, 'You've won a prize. Please give me your account number,' he said.

This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country, said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. We do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.

According to Werfel, people are usually first contacted by an email and he said no one should ever open links or attachments on messages that request personal information.

Scam artists may follow up with phone calls using fake IRS badge numbers and caller IDs, Werfel said. Calls will sometimes have fake background chatter that mimics a call center. Others may call pretending to be police or the department of motor vehicles. Werfel warned it was all part of the scam.

If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn t the IRS, Werfel said.

Officials said that those who've been contacted and who believe they actually do owe taxes should call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

Those who are contacted and who are not sure if they owe taxes or are confident that they do not, should call the Treasury Inspector General at 800-366-4484

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