Scammers, Part Deux
Jul 17, 2014
So you get a call from a number you don’t recognize and you let it go to voice mail because you don’t want to deal with some telemarketer—or worse—a bill collector. Naturally, you immediately listen to the voice mail and you almost drop the phone midway through the message: it’s IRS and they’re alerting you of an issue with some back taxes and not-so-subtly let you know that you better call them back to settle the debt by arranging payment over the phone before they move to step two: calling SWAT on you!
When you finally stop shaking a few minutes later, you wonder if maybe you should’ve just answered the call and settled the thing right then and there to avoid some Tommy Lee Jones-emulating deputy who’s watched The Fugitive one too many times screaming about doing “a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse” for your tax-evading self!
Well, you’re no tax evader, you pay your bills…oh-oh…maybe you did file a couple of weeks late last year? You thought you’d filed the extension…How’s this going to affect your credit? What are you going to tell your spouse? For whatever reason, you call the number back. Right away, a polite gentleman answers, “IRS headquarters, may I help you?” Oh, man it’s the big boys up in HQ who want you…this may be more serious than you thought. You say that Mr. ___ left a message stating you had an IRS debt that needed to be settled right away. They ask for your phone number. You give it to them. They connect you to Mr. ___, who proceeds to tell you in a not-so-kind tone that you’ve got a tax fraud case against you, the debt is now $XXXX.xx and you need to go to the nearest money wire transfer service provider and wire the money to the IRS treasury account number they’ll give you or else you’re about a half hour away from being the next Jason Bourne with everyone chasing after you! You panic. You don’t know what to say, so you hang up.
Ten minutes later, your nerves start to cool, your thoughts get clearer, and you have the first rational thought since you heard the message: let me call my friends at Larry’s to see what I should do; I mean, after all, they are tax professionals, they’ll guide me in the right direction. You call. We answer. We let you tell us your story—maybe even pause for dramatic effect before telling you that you’re most likely a victim of the latest scam that’s going on.
Basically, that call goes out exactly like the above scenario all over the country. IRS website states that foreigners seem to be targeted more perhaps because of the perceived lack of their knowledge regarding the tax system. Be vigilant, though, as we’ve had a few natives getting the call as well.
Here are a few ways to help you spot and deal with the call/scam:
1. The call itself. There is a 99.99% chance that IRS will not call you out of the blue to discuss your tax situation. If you’ve ever had a real tax issue, you know that they will inundate your house with letters (remember that scene from one of those Harry Potter films where the owls delivered countless letters to his “muggle” address? Double it!). And why is that…why waste all that money on postage? Because they don’t want you saying that you didn’t know about your tax problems---they’ll send you 2-3 letters and then a few certified ones for good measure. You’ll have plenty chances to respond to a real IRS problem. By the way, a tip: don’t ignore IRS letters and, PLEASE don’t throw them away. Often, people will come into our office with the certified letter and swear that that’s the first one they’ve received---the bad thing is that by that time, the letter just has an amount due and does not give you a clue as to why the amount is owed. All the details are spelled out in that first letter you get—so keep them all as you’ve kept all those high school notes you used to write/receive in class. But I digress…
2. The caller. All IRS agents have an ID number that they give you at the onset of the call. If one is given to you, write it down with the agent’s name. Ask them to spell it for you just to be clear. Whether or not they give you a badge number, after they tell you what the matter is about, politely tell them you’ll call them back within an hour because “you’ve called me right in the middle of ________.”
The real reason why you want to get off the phone, of course, is to call the real IRS number and verify the situation. Remember to be polite in case your case is that .01% where the call involves a real agent! By the way, don’t be surprised to get some heavy verbal pushback because the scammer does not want you to hang up and have a chance to research the matter. Remember that no matter what they tell you…you have to get off the phone without giving any vital information to them. An IRS agent will [most likely] not be verbally abusive, so if the caller bombards you with coarse or threatening language, just hang up—it’s definitely a scam. Maybe even throw in your own salty vocabulary a la Bruce Willis in those Die Hard movies!
3. The number. The real nationwide toll-free number to IRS is 1-800-829-1040. The numbers left on voicemails or given to the victims are nowhere in the vicinity of this number. Call the IRS number to verify the validity of the call—especially if you’re currently enrolled in a payment plan or dealing with other issues with IRS (remember the .01%).
Although the likelihood of receiving calls involving real IRS matters is still low, it’s not unheard of for the agent in charge of your case to call you to discuss your case—once you’ve established that relationship. The initial contact is always done by mail (not by e-mail, either).
You will see how ridiculously funny the guy answering the phone, “IRS headquarters, may I help you” is once you call the real IRS number---you’ll spend at least 40 minutes navigating through the automated options and on hold!
4. Common sense. No legitimate bill collector is going to call and ask you for your account number to look up the debt you owe. No legitimate bill collector is going to give you an account number that you need to wire your payment to. No legitimate bill collector will verbally abuse you (okay that one may be up for debate—but they won’t curse you out and threaten bodily harm!) As taxpayer representatives, we often deal with IRS agents in person and on the phone. Not once in our 30-plus years of experience has any agent been [overly] rude or demanded that the tax be paid via wire at the local check cashing place or drugstore!
Dealing with IRS is already stressful enough. Add a low-life predator who throws in a few fancy words and they may rattle some of us out there. However, now that you know the problem, there won’t be a problem.
Tell your friends about the scam…especially the elderly and those who aren’t as sophisticated as you. Also, if you have a suggestion about future blog topics, let us know. We’ll try to post it especially for you!