By Gina Murray, Co-Founder and Director of Aware Senior Care
I have been told this plenty of times before, I knew this. I heard it several times when we were researching scams that prey on elderly. I remember reassuring my mother in law last year when the “IRS” called to say they were taking her house for not paying taxes. And yet- I allowed myself to get sucked into a conversation with the “IRS.”
Late yesterday afternoon I had just arrived home when I answered a call from "the IRS”. The male caller was very professional. He told me his name and said this was a courtesy call. He explained that since I had not responded to the IRS’s certified letter concerning my tax audit, the Federal Court now had the case. As I write this, it sounds ridiculous and like a scam. Yesterday, it felt very real. He asked that I have a pen and paper ready to write down his information. He spelled his name, gave me his badge number as well as my case number. He told me that if at any time I felt pressured or intimidated, I could call the IRS main number to report him. He gave me the number – while he spoke, I did a reverse look up and the number was indeed the main number to the IRS.
The man explained that my name was pulled from a random audit and they found a ‘miscalculation’ during the years 2008- 2013. I owed $12,562 immediately and since I had not answered there certified letters, the case was now in Federal Court. I asked if he could tell me when and where the miscalculation occurred. He said all the papers were sent to the court, I had missed my time to do the research. His call was simply to let me know I owed this money. He also said if I went to court and ‘lost’ to the IRS, I would owe $100,500. My head was spinning and I kept trying to tell him I had not received any letter from the IRS.
The conversation lasted about ten minutes and I was pretty upset. It sounded very plausible, very real and very scary. Just as he started to tell me how I could ‘resolve’ this problem, Tim arrived home. He could see that I was shaken by this caller and stopped to listen. I pointed to the notes I had been taking. Tim calmly took the phone and said “The IRS never calls. Do not ever call this number again”. He hung up as I started to tell him the details. He said again- the IRS does not call – ever.
As I write this today, part of me still worries ‘What if it’s true? What if I really do owe the IRS?’ Then I feel angry at the thought of this caller preying on anyone else- especially the elderly. I was truly shaken by that call. We are law abiding, tax paying citizens and to have that questioned was upsetting.
IRS scammers use social engineering to catch us off guard or lower our defenses to trick us into doing something we normally wouldn't.
-Scammers have learned that people know the IRS won't call without sending correspondence first. This particular scammer knew that and used it against me, saying that they had sent certified mail to me and I hadn't answered. The IRS has your tax information and when I asked what my address was, he said those papers were now with the court. If the IRS has a case for you, your tax returns have your mailing address on them. They have that information.
-The scammer used benefit of the doubt to earn my trust. By giving me the actual IRS main line and telling me I could hang up and call if I felt pressured or intimidated, he was banking on me to find this real number and assume he was a legitimate agent. He was also counting on me not wanting to be rude and hanging up on him to check the number. Always verify your case through confirmed IRS numbers; don't be afraid to make sure your needs are met.
-Check all case numbers, badge numbers, and any "legitimate sounding" information through a confirmed IRS number. If a scammer gives you this information, take it down and report it to the Federal Trade Commission and add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments.
Use this information to protect yourself and the ones you love, especially our seniors!