IRS scam hits home and delete button

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just a couple days after chatting with local police authorities concerning ongoing scams for an accompanying story, I returned home to find a blinking "5" on my answering machine atop the bedroom nightstand.

That "5" represented five separate messages, all delivered in about a six-hour timeframe between being home for lunch and returning to hit the bed after another long night on deadline.

First of all, in this age of cell phones, no one ever calls me at home any more. But I'm stuck with a landline because it's $15 less a month to keep it bundled than delete it from my cable package. Go figure.

So no one calls unless they have something to sell, want money or are up to no good. And it doesn't matter that I'm on the no-call list.

But there they were blinking at me. Five, count 'em five, glowing messages to deal with before calling it a night.

I pushed the play button but never anticipated what I heard. It was a voice, in broken English, warning me, "I'm calling regarding enforcement actions executed by the U.S. Treasury intending (sic) your serious attention."

Of course I laughed and hit delete.

The second message began the same way, so I paid a little more attention to it. And it sounded as though the caller said his name was Steve Martin. Well, excuuuuse me, Steve, but I'm hanging up on you. The poor English alone should have been a red flag.

On to message No. 3, and yes, it begins the exact same way. By now I'm more intrigued than perturbed, and let it play a little longer -- long enough to understand the call is a scare tactic, implying that I am behind in my taxes and need to wire them money or face arrest and charges.

Well, that's easily dispelled. After all, I know I'm not behind in my taxes, and I haven't got any money to wire to anyone for any reason any how.

Chuckling to myself at the obviously computer-generated calls, I delete the third message and move on to No. 4. Surely it's about my Jeep Commander being recalled again or something.

But no, you guessed it, same exact message as the first three. So I listen to more of it, 37 seconds in its entirety.

The caller even sounds a warning. "Ignoring this will be an intentional second attempt to avoid an initial appearance before a magistrate judge or a grand jury for a federal criminal offense," he advises.

After giving out a telephone number that I can call to send him my money, he offers one last suggestion.

"I advise you to cooperate with us to help us to help you," the caller says.

That still left me one last call to check, and it, too, was from old buddy Steve Martin.

Not sure why I got the same message five separate times, but I'll bet I wasn't alone in being contacted once, twice or five times over.

The scary thing is the IRS has issued a warning that this very phone scam has now taken consumers for more than $5 million.

Scammers are targeting thousands of people with these calls, and even if you don't pick up the phone, they'll hound you by leaving a frightening message on your answering machine or voicemail.

The IRS has been inundated with complaints about such calls, receiving nearly 100,000 complaints about similar scams in the past two years.

Amazingly, more than 1,000 victims actually have fallen for the scam, sending someone in Nigeria or Canada or Kathmandu more than $5 million so far, the IRS said, as people are either wiring money or purchasing pre-paid debit cards and giving them the card number, all in an attempt to avoid arrest.

Like them or not, the IRS assures it will never call and threaten you with arrest. It doesn't even have arrest powers.

And if there's a problem with your tax filing, you get a certified letter via mail, stating what is wrong and explaining your rights. The IRS will never demand payment on the spot, without a hearing.

So if the caller is "intending your serious attention," the best advice is: Just hang up.

That certainly would help you help them help you.

The companion story to this opinion piece can be found HERE

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