In the last month, I’ve gotten a half-dozen calls at the New To Seattle world headquarters purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service saying that criminal charges have been filed against me for not paying back taxes. The encounters are so cheesy–caller ID numbers that make no sense, supposed agency employees who speak bad English and assertion of bizarre legal claims and procedures–that it’s hard to imagine people called are fooled by these scammers. But some recipients of these calls are.
I’ve written before about this problem in Seattle. Still, in the spirit of all the calls I get from sketchy charities, allow me to recount my latest encounter this morning with this growing area of chicanery.
The vaguely female voice on the other end of the line was a robo-call controlled by a computer. It said that the IRS had filed criminal charges against me and that I should act quickly. I was given a number to call.
Now I know that the IRS makes its initial contacts in writing, not by phone. But I played along, and called. A male answered the phone, “Internal Revenue Service.” I said I was returning a call from the IRS.
The guy on the phone, who had a heavy foreign accent and, it turned out, an uncertain command of English grammar, asked for my name. I gave it. He was able to pull up my address, although he got several of the words in it wrong, including Seattle, which he pronounced as “Sell.”
The person on the phone–I’ll call him Joe since he never gave me his name–said he was with the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division, which had filed a “a criminal case” against me alleging tax evasion.
“Wow!” I said. What taxes and for what years?
Joe said it was a total of $68,000 for 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Where, I asked, was this case filed?
“Federal District Court in Washington, D.C.” (A caller last week had told me I was facing criminal charges in U.S. Tax Court, which doesn’t even have authority to hear criminal cases and only hears civil cases brought by taxpayers.)
Gee, I said, if this is a criminal case, why haven’t I been arrested and booked?
Joe said “the police” would appear at my door within an hour, and I might be held in jail thereafter to 10- to 15 days. A summons and subpoena, he added, were on the way to me.
“A subpoena?” I said. “You don’t send a subpoena to someone who was just charged. What does the subpoena ask for?”
Joe, who left out a lot of verbs when he spoke, didn’t seem to know. I pointed out that any individual criminal tax case against me would have to be filed where I lived now or maybe at the time the taxes were due. (I have never lived in Washington, D.C., and for most of the 2009-2011 time frame resided in California.) I think this jurisdictional issue went over Joe’s head, as did my assertion the IRS lacks the authority to file a criminal case in any court.
According to various accounts, these IRS scam callers ask that money be sent by untraceable wire or prepaid debit cards to “settle” the case. But Joe and I didn’t get that far.
“The number I called you back on is in area code 315, which is Syracuse,” I said. “That’s upstate New York, and pretty remote. Why is an IRS office in Syracuse, N.Y., investigating a taxpayer in Seattle, Washington, and then filing a case in Washington, D.C.?”
Joe had trouble answering this. A lot of trouble. He appeared to say–remember, he was hard to understand–that the Criminal Investigation Division routinely processes cases from across the country in Syracuse. I finally laughed out loud.
I didn’t really think Joe was in Syracuse, a city whose unusual economy I wrote about some years ago. I think he was spoofing the caller ID and was really in a foreign country. I heard a gaggle of voices in the background, suggesting a lot of IRS scam call operatives were hard at work.
But that laugh might have gotten to Joe. The next thing I heard was a click. He had hung up.
Very unbecoming. I hate rude scammers. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the police.