— -- An innovative way to battle fraudsters impersonating the IRS to steal millions from consumers is launching today in the form of a simple, free app.
Whitepages, a 20-year-old company based in Seattle that actually has nothing to do with phone books, is releasing an update for its app that blocks suspected IRS scammers.
Aggressive and threatening phone calls by fraudsters impersonating the IRS agents is the most common tax scam, the IRS said this year. The scammers call victims and threaten them with police arrest, deportation and other actions if they don't send or wire money immediately. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which audits and investigates our nation's tax system, said in January that it received reports of about 896,000 fraudulent contacts since October 2013, with 5,000 victims who have paid over $26.5 million as a result of scams.
The latest update to the Whitepages ID app for Android, first launched in 2008, tackles the growing scam as Americans file their taxes before the April 18 deadline.
Here's how it works: once you download the app and receive a call from a suspected IRS scammer, the app blocks the call so it doesn't ring on your phone and it will inform you with an alert that you received a call from a suspected spammer. Depending on your device, the call may go automatically to voicemail or simply drop the call.
"We hire people that do nothing else but look at these things all day long, verifying data," including telephone numbers that the IRS provides, a spokesperson for Whitepages told ABC News. "There’s quite a lot of manual work to find these offenders."
The Whitepages app developers use an algorithm to identify spam calls coming to your smartphone. For example, the algorithm can analyze if there's one phone number that's making 5,000 phone calls that each last 10 seconds. Users of the app can also submit a quick community report that warns others that a particular phone number is fraudulent or spam.
Of the 300 million incoming calls that Whitepages scans per month in the U.S., more than 15 million are classified as “unwanted,” the company said. While phone users can block individual calls on their phone, the app tries to assist in preventing the deluge from scammers changing their phone numbers as much as 60 times a year, Whitepages said.
While the Federal Communications Commission has encouraged carriers to create a systematic way to block spammers and fraudsters from calling you, the Whitpages app is working with carriers like T-Mobile and companies like Samsung to boost their efforts.
In addition to blocking numbers suspected as IRS scammers, the app allows users to block categories of callers, such as unidentified numbers or international calls.