A robotic voice filled the room as Terri Gibson hit play on her answering machine.
It was the IRS. She faced “four serious allegations.” She was to be “taken under custody by the local cops.”
The eastern Jackson County resident’s only out was to call back or “legal action will be taken,” the message said.
Yes, it was a scam. But messages like these continue to claim victims well into the summer, long after the tax filing season has ended, according to the IRS.
Never miss a local story.
The scam Gibson experienced fell underneath the category of “robocall” messages. In this tactic, scammers typically tell victims that if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.
Other variations of this scam include a claim that two certified letters mailed to the taxpayer were undeliverable.
Those who do respond are told they must make immediate payment either by purchasing a specific prepaid debit card or by sending a wire transfer.
“They’re warning us all the time, but we get so many robocalls here that half the time we don’t even answer until we listen to the message or recognize it as someone we know,” Gibson said.
Calls are often made using a technology called Voice Over Internet Protocol. It’s a cheap and easy way to mask the origin of the calls by showing a false caller ID, perhaps as the IRS or another agency. The IRS does not call and leave prerecorded, urgent messages asking for a call back.
Detective John Stirling of the Shawnee Police Department is familiar with scams like the one Gibson received. He said a lot of these calls come from overseas, and a big indicator of that is the incorrect grammar they use. In Gibson’s call, they referenced “the local cops” instead of a specific law enforcement agency and said “taken under custody” instead of “taken into custody.”
He said calls like these where the con artist threatens to arrest the victim are meant to play off of peoples’ fears.
“Sometimes it is easy to say common sense is the answer to this problem, but when they’re playing off of fears, hopes or dreams, to some extent, understandably, what we consider as daily common sense kind of goes out the window,” Stirling said.
There’s no particular group more susceptible to these cases than another. Stirling has dealt with victims of all ages. Some con artists call every number in the phone book until they trick someone.
The detective has seen cases where people are so overcome by the fear of a warrant issued against them that they stay on the phone with scammers for hours, following instructions to send money through a prepaid debit card.
Stirling suggests the best solution for situations like this is to not play along.
“The biggest thing about these is verification,” Stirling said. “If you even have an inkling of doubt, hang up the phone, call law enforcement, call whoever they’re claiming to be with , whether it be IRS or the sheriff’s department, and talk to them about it. Because if it truly is them, they’ll get you back to the people you’re supposed to be talking to anyway.”
Robocalls are one of several scams targeting taxpayers this summer. These include:
▪ Electronic federal tax payment system scam: A caller demands immediate payment by a specific prepaid debit card purportedly linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. In reality, the card is controlled entirely by the scammer.
▪ Private debt collection scam: Scammers pose as private collection firms working for the IRS, a practice the tax agency began recently.
▪ Targeting victims with limited English proficiency: A robocall or email in the target’s native language threatens deportation, police arrest and license revocation.
Although Gibson realized her voice mail was a scam, not everyone will.
The IRS said neither it nor others working for it demand immediate payment with a specific method such as a prepaid debit card, threaten to bring in the local police or other law enforcement, demand payment without allowing an appeal or questions about the amount owed, or ask for any credit or debit card numbers.
Never give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords, to anyone who calls claiming to be from the IRS.
For more information, visit “How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door” on IRS.gov.