The land line telephone rang late Friday afternoon. When the caller identification told me it was from a number I didn’t recognize, I let the answering machine deal with it. The caller’s accent sounded vaguely Indian, and his knowledge of English syntax left a little something to be desired.
“Collection Department for the IRS. This is a notification call to inform you about a legal issue that we have on your name. So, the very second you receive this message, I need you to call us back on 267-885-2326. I repeat. The hot line number to our division is 267-885-2326.
“Now for the next forty-eight hours, if you fail to respond to this call, this will lead you to face federal law enforcement procedures as the issue at hand is extremely time sensitive.
“Again, this is agent James Anderson, looking forward to talk to you.”
We’ve gotten similar, if not identical, calls two or three times in the last several months, so my first reaction was to erase the message immediately. Then I got curious enough to wonder what kind of scum we were dealing with. Internet White Pages told me the call came from a cell phone in Doylestown, PA. For $1.99 they would perform a “Premium Search” and give me the name, but I didn’t really feel like investing real money in this person’s shenanigans.
I was, however, concerned enough to see if many others were getting these calls. And, yes, thousands are complaining. Apparently, the tough talk begins once they have you on the line. They threaten to send the police for you if you don’t follow their directions to send money via prepaid debit card immediately. The call sounds suspicious enough that most people are not going to be fooled into returning the call, but anyone foolish enough to engage with these people is likely also foolish enough to be frightened by them. And the elderly seem to be particularly susceptible.
The IRS suggestions about dealing with this type of call consist of five truths about the IRS.
- They would contact you first by mail. If you have not received a bill through the mail, the caller is a fake.
- There would be an appeal process. If you are not already in contact with the IRS through the mail, and a phone caller insists on payment, he is a fake.
- The IRS does not require any specific form of payment, certainly not a prepaid debit card. If he presses for payment by credit or debit card, he is a fake.
- They would not ask for any kind of card numbers over the phone. If they ask, they are fake.
- They would not bring in local law enforcement to arrest you or force payment. If they threaten to do so, they are fake.
If you have a parent, elderly relative, or friend who might be susceptible, mention the problem and ask if they have ever had someone try to contact them this way. The best suggestion might be to just refuse to deal with anyone who makes their first contact over the phone.
And if someone does claim to be from the IRS, or any other government organization, and asks for money, insist they first send a certified letter on official letterhead. Then hang up. Or even better, just hang up before speaking to them.