print(Date("l F d, Y")); ?>
By Andrea Peyser
July 25, 2016
My friend is smart, accomplished and holds a master’s degree from a fancy American university. But he told me recently that he received a threatening phone call that pitted his senses of intelligence and decency against the wits of some horrible people.
A stranger called him at home, and said that Big Brother — the Internal Revenue Service — was out to get him for nonpayment of tax money.
“Two agents will arrive within 35 minutes to take you into custody,” said “Jen,” who identified herself as an employee of the Enforcement Division of the United States Treasury Department.
Severely freaked out, he called her back at least three times at the number she provided, and operators who answered grew increasingly bullying.
With the clock ticking and fears of incarceration and financial ruination swirling in his head, Jen made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. She said he could clear up a “problem” with his 2012 tax return immediately by paying $6,999 and change via telephone to cover the debt, penalties, interest and fees.
“I was suspicious, but I was also worried,” he told me. “The idea of being hauled off in cuffs to spend six months in jail may not seem likely, especially in hindsight, but in the moment, it is worrisome.”
“I was suspicious, but I was also worried. The idea of being hauled off in cuffs to spend six months in jail may not seem likely, especially in hindsight, but in the moment, it is worrisome.”
Fortunately, he visited his accountant, who told him he was being duped.
Calls such as these are part of well-orchestrated scams that con people into handing over hard-earned cash to folks they don’t know.
And the diabolically successful thievery schemes are multiplying like rabbits.
One Orlando, Fla., man was fleeced out of $660,000 in a tax scam, said Ken Shuman, spokesman for the Atlanta-based security firm Pindrop, which roots out fraud against financial institutions.
“They wiped out his entire bank account,” Shuman said.
Scammers act like twisted psychologists, preying expertly on honest citizens’ financial fears. Villains also pounce on the elderly.
A geriatric married couple I know — as with my friend, they did not want to be named out of fear of public humiliation — got a phone call at their house that rocked their world.
The wife was felt out with statements such as, “Your grandson is locked up.’’ The scammer figured out by her reaction that the couple, in fact, had a young adult grandson. It wasn’t hard to convince them that their loved one had been arrested and was holed up in jail, afraid to tell his own parents of his predicament.
But his loyal gramps and gran were told they could free him by withdrawing the $800 maximum from their bank’s automatic teller machine, then spending the money on gift cards from some store and reading the cards’ serial numbers to the voice on the phone.
But don’t tell a soul, the couple was warned, or your kin will remain in the hoosegow far longer.
The grandparents did as they were instructed, and were about to buy more gift cards when relatives found out and compelled them to stop.
Now, they’re out money they can’t afford to lose. Their grandson, of course, was never in trouble with the law.
Phone scams are cash cows to crooks, who tend to operate in other countries, making prosecution or retrieval of stolen loot unlikely.
About 896,000 scam calls have been reported to the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s office since October 2013, with some 5,000 victims paying more than $29.5 million to robbers, the agency’s head reported earlier this year.
But experts contend that many rip-off calls and e-mails go unreported.
Victims are “embarrassed,’’ said Shuman. “They feel like they’ve been taken.’’
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen this year warned people not to return harassing calls to the phone numbers supplied by strangers, but to contact the IRS or a potential victim’s bank directly, and not to give out personal information such as debit- or credit-card numbers. IRS officials never call folks demanding immediate payment. Yet people get swindled. I almost did.
An ominous robocall was recorded the other day on my answering machine. In it, a woman’s voice claimed I owed the IRS $1,999 and change, and I faced arrest if I didn’t pay up. Even with everything I know, it sounded real. I wondered if I should call back and make sure it wasn’t.
I hit the delete button. You should do the same. Be smart.
No one will save you if you don’t protect yourself.