A young friend of mine here in Seattle got a threatening telephone call recently from someone who said he was from the Internal Revenue Service. The caller–who spoke barely intelligible English–said my friend owed a little over $2,000 in taxes and that the agency was issuing an arrest warrant. But the debt could be settled for only $500, and the arrest warrant canceled, if my friend would just provide a credit card number over the phone.
My friend understandably was worried but, since all taxes had been paid, wisely declined to provide a number. My friend then contacted me and allowed me to act as an authorized representative. From the New To Seattle world headquarters I called back the telephone number, (202) 241-1046. Someone answered speaking English in a rather heavy accent. He eventually spelled his name for me as Fabher Modher.
Modher said my friend owed back taxes. I asked which specific office of the IRS Modher was with. He said he was with “U.S. Bank.”
Then he hung up.
That might be the last contact I have with Modher, which I rather doubt is his real name (A Google search of that name produced absolutely zero hits.) He is clearly a scammer plying what has become one of the hot new national identity theft games, one that preys on a heady brew of ignorance, fear and panic.
Sure, the IRS goes after unpaid taxes. But few tax cases end up in jail time (even when the amount of avoidance is as high as $52 million). The collection process takes months or even years. The agency starts with written notices. The IRS lacks the power on its own to issue arrest warrants. It doesn’t ask for payments–and credit card numbers–over the phone. The agency definitely doesn’t bargain on the spot to accept a lower payment, without the taxpayer first submitting a lot of paperwork proving an inability to pay. And its workers speak good English.
In the past year the U.S. Treasury Department has issued press releases here and here about bogus IRS collection calls. Other skeptical taxpayers receiving calls from (202) 241-1046 have weighed in. A Forbes.com writer in New York earlier this year posted her own account of a similarly threatening scam IRS call also from area code 202.
That area code, of course, is in the Other Washington, where the IRS has its main office. But I think it far more likely the call originated in one of those noted tax-enforcement jurisdictions of India or Pakistan. It appears the calls essentially are random once the scammers have a name, an associated phone number, and, if they’re lucky, the correct last four digits of a Social Security number. In the case of my friend a whole lot more than $500 likely would have ended up being charged on a credit card had there been acquiescence.
Remember, you can’t spell “contact” without “con.”