IRS officer Jim Brown had Jessica Dillard in tears.
Brown had called to collect $3,700 in taxes that he said she owed. Brown identified himself, volunteering his badge number at the Internal Revenue Service. He provided a case number on her, and he cited a warrant number to back up his threat of prison.
She could get 11 years.
“I was scared. I was crying,” Dillard said. “I have three kids I got to worry about.”
Dillard, an in-home health services worker in southeast Missouri, said a coworker overheard her side of the call and told her to check it out. It could be a scam.
Fake badge numbers and other purported trappings of legitimacy are longstanding practices in phone and email scams that seek to impersonate the IRS, according to Michael Devine with the agency. The practice drew alerts from the IRS as early as 2013 and as recently as February.
The IRS warns that scammers might even know the last four digits of their victim’s Social Security number, expecting that to give them legitimacy.
Devine said taxpayers should focus on three points to detect IRS impersonators who are out to rob their money: the call was unexpected, the caller issued threats and the caller demanded immediate payment or personal information.
None of those should happen with a legitimate inquiry by the IRS.
Taxpayers who encounter probable impersonators should report them through the website of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration or by calling its 800-366-4484 hotline. Investigators make use of the information and likely will follow up with a targeted taxpayer who suffered a loss in the scam.
Dillard had reached out to The Star after finding a 2016 article online about Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s complaints that the IRS was using private collection firms that call delinquent taxpayers. The senator previously had challenged legislation allowing federal agencies to use automated calls or texts to collect federal debts.
Calls from the IRS, however, come after contact with the taxpayer through the mail, the agency said. Taxpayers with overdue taxes may receive calls from private collection agencies to which the IRS has turned over accounts. But the IRS said it notifies the taxpayer of the transfer to the private collection firm before that firm would contact the taxpayer.
The Star directed Dillard to an IRS official in criminal investigations. He told her not to answer if the scammer called again and to report the incident online.
Dillard’s IRS impersonator did call again, shortly after she hung up with the IRS. Dillard admitted that she ignored the advice and answered.
“I answered once because they called three times. I told them I’d talked to the IRS and they said that they were a fraud,” Dillard said. “He started yelling at me. So I just hung up the phone.”
The scammer called a few more times after that, but Dillard ignored the calls.
There were other telltale signs that Dillard was being targeted by a scam operation.
She heard others’ voices in the background when talking to the purported officer Brown. The IRS said scammers sometimes fake these background noises to further their scheme by making the call sound as if it is coming from an IRS call center.
Dillard said the man told her to borrow $1,000 from her bank and to lie about the need for the loan. She was to tell the bank she needed the money for a medical emergency. She never went to the bank.
Dillard said the caller even said he’d match her $1,000 to help get the tax bill covered, a further inducement to send him money.
Although Dillard’s scammer never got to the point of telling her how to pay him, the IRS warns that scammers typically turn to forms of payment that can’t be retrieved once sent.
For example, don’t pay taxes with iTunes gift cards or any other kind of gift cards, the IRS says. The IRS also won’t ask taxpayers to make payments using Western Union, MoneyGram or bank wire transfers. Nor will the IRS ask a taxpayer to deposit money into another person’s account.