Last week, a DuPage County resident was the victim of the now highly publicized IRS phone scam, that has duped over 20,000 Americans out of over $1 million. Though the IRS has publicly announced that they contact taxpayers by mail, not by phone, the scammers have that covered.
Here is how it works.
The victim, who prefers to remain anonymous, arrived home from work and had a voice mail. It was left by a man with a heavy accent and she could barely understand him, but she did get the number and made out the words Internal Revenue Service.
She checked, and the number they left was a legitimate IRS phone number.
When she got to work she called the number and the man said she owed $7000 in back taxes from 2008 to the present. She told the man her taxes are very straightforward and she didn't see how this was possible. She had received no notice of this .
He told her that they were the result of mathematical errors and the IRS had sent her a certified letter that she never answered. When she got excited and argued with him again, he told her he was just trying to help her but he was hanging up because she was getting loud with him.
She calmed down and agreed to listen.
He told her that she had a court date at 10 am that same day, but she could avoid this if she followed his instructions. If she didn't, she would be arrested at her job, they would ensure her employment was terminated and she would be taken to court to answer the charges.
Now terrified of being arrested and losing her job, she agreed to do whatever was necessary. He instructed her that it was a private matter and she was to tell no one.
For her, this was the key to cooperation. She is a naturalized citizen. Normally, there are several people would discuss these issues with to get advice on how to proceed.
The scammer guaranteed that this would not happen.
He told her to go to her bank and withdraw the sum required because it had to be paid right away. She told him she knew of no branch banks near her and he asked where she worked. She told him and he located a branch several miles from her job.
She realized that she had no idea how to get there or how far it was and asked the scammer what the distance was.
Since it was too far to walk, she agreed to take a cab. He told her to call him back when she left work and stay on the phone throughout the process.
He again assured her he was only there to help.
She got a cab and called him back. She had to tell him step-by-step what she was doing. She was getting into the cab, she was going to the bank, she had arrived at the bank, she got out of the cab.
He told her to go into the bank and withdraw the funds, but she was not to hang up, she was to put the phone in her pocket as soon as she entered the bank and leave it on. This was very important.
Once she had the money and left the bank he instructed her to go to Jewel. She didn't know where there was one so again, he found one for her. She was instructed to go to the gift card display and choose 4 Reload cards. Not knowing anything about Reload cards, she asked an associate at Jewel where the display was. Very relieved, she found the display and chose the cards.
She took four of them to the customer service desk, each of which had a maximum reload amount of $995. The customer service representative was only allowed to reload two of them per their policy. She put the money on the cards and told the scammer she could only reload two. He told her to get two more cards but to get Green Dot Money Cards, though they only had a maximum reload amount of $500.
She did, and was able to reload two more cards. The customer service representative told her that was all she could load for her, per Jewel's policy.
Once out of the Jewel, he told her to scratch off the cards and read him the numbers. The numbers are needed to get the money from the card. She did this, and read him all of the numbers very carefully so as not to make a mistake.
She didn't want to lose her job or get arrested.
He told her she could go back to work and he would call her later about the balance, but she had avoided the court date.
Once at work, she told one of her friends what happened and he informed her she was the victim of a scam. The IRS won't make you pay with reload cards, won't arrest you if you owe them money and won't get you fired from your job. They also don't call you on the phone.
She called the reload card services who said there was nothing they could do and there was no way to trace the money.
Another friend called the FBI field office in Chicago and asked who was investigating it and if there is a number to call to report it. According to the agent, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the agency handling these complaints.
If you believe you have been a victim of this scam, call the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 and they will take your report. Alternately, you can file a complaint online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 .
Unfortunately for this victim, she is now out $3000. She is sure she will never see it again.