Whenever I hear of someone falling victim to phone scams, my blood boils. Most often the victim is elderly or vulnerable in some way and can ill afford to send money to scam artists. One of the most prevalent phone scams today is people posing as IRS agents. I’m going to tell you how to recognize the scam, but also explain how you can fight back — while having a little fun with the scammers.
Usually, you’ll receive a phone call with a recorded message instructing you that you’ve committed tax fraud and need to call right away to resolve the matter. Whether you call the phone number provided in the message or simply hit redial on the number that called you, the “IRS” will answer.
At this point, the individual on the other side of the line will identify himself as IRS officer so-and-so; he’ll even provide a badge number if asked. The “officer” will then inform you that the police are on their way to arrest you because you have failed to respond to their many notifications. Throwing in big words and official-sounding acronyms, the scammer speaks quickly in order to try and confuse you with a lot of information. Eventually, it will be made clear that you have failed to file past taxes correctly and owe the IRS money. The only way to halt the arrest warrant is to follow the instructions of the “officer.”
If you offer to pay your outstanding debt by debit or credit card, you will be informed that it’s too late. Instead, the “officer” will instruct you to go to the nearest store, like a Walmart or Target, to buy gift cards. You will be instructed to stay on the phone the entire time, otherwise, this final chance to avoid prison will disappear and the police will soon arrive.
The reason why the scammers ask for gift cards instead of taking money directly out of people’s banks is to avoid financial trails that will get them shut down. I would imagine that this tactic produces less money in the short term, but more in the long term as it enables them to operate the scam for much longer.
That’s the basic IRS scam.
Know this — and this is important — the IRS doesn’t call people. Hopefully, my writing all this down will help people recognize the scam so that they can spread the word of warning to their family and friends. I also share it for another reason: to help you prepare to have some fun while wasting the time of some scumbag scammers in the process.
If you own a cell phone, chances are you are going to receive one of these phone calls. I’ve been eagerly awaiting mine, and today I had the immense pleasure of spending over forty-five minutes on the phone with IRS scammers (the number, in case you want to call, is 720-262-4678; the last I checked, it’s still working, but probably not for long). Throughout the conversation, I had a hard time not laughing (and I’m a trained improvisational actor). By the end of the phone call, the scammers demonstrated their understanding of English profanity and suggested that I do many unnatural things to my body. Fun was had by me, and the scammers’ time was wasted, meaning that they had less time to try to scam anyone else.
You, too, can spend half an hour or longer amusing yourself at the expense of scumbag scammers, all while preventing them from making other phone calls. But you need to be prepared beforehand.
For starters, they’re going to ask for your name. Don’t give them your real name. Have a fake name ready, as well as a fake address. Don’t get too cute, though. By way of an experiment, I just called them back and told them that I was George Washington and that I lived at 1 Mount Vernon Drive. They hung up on me. Apparently, my scammers have at least a rudimentary understanding of U.S. history, or they recognized my phone number or voice.
Second, don’t argue with them about anything of substance. Most of what they say is not going to make any sense. Obviously, they don’t work for the IRS, but don’t challenge them on that. However, do slightly argue with them or push back on nonsensical things. For example, I spent several minutes arguing with them about how it wasn’t fair that I had to round up to the nearest dollar amount. I was informed that I owed $3,498.20. They wanted gift cards totaling $3,500. I insisted that it was my legal right to pay the exact amount and no more. Eventually, I relented.
Third, invent long-winded personal stories explaining why it’s taking you a long time to do simple commands. I told my scammers that I was having trouble finding the debit card with which I needed to buy the gift cards at Target. I explained how the evening before my wife and I had a long argument about the correct way to roll crescent rolls. I went through my nonsensical reasons for why crescent rolls should be rolled from left to right and not right to left. Anyway, my wife, being a Canadian, refused to see the logic of it all, got mad, and left me. Before she stormed out, though, she scattered all of my earthly positions in the backyard. This is why I was home from work to take the phone call to begin with. I was retrieving all of my stuff out of the yard. At the time of the call, I had yet to locate my debit card (for the record, my wife and I didn’t have an argument about crescent rolls, nor did she leave me, much less scatter my belongings in the backyard).
Part of the trick to the long-winded storytelling is speaking quickly and believably. Also, try and keep a gauge on whether or not the scammer is losing too much patience with you. One way to keep them interested is to keep reminding them that you owe them money and that you are anxious to pay them so that you don’t get arrested. Dangle that carrot while you lead them down the path of nonsense.
Finally, don’t go to the store, obviously. Tell them that a Target or Walmart or whatever store they want is down the street from you. Pretending to walk to the store is a great way to waste their time. I mean, when I was “walking” to Target, traffic was terrible. My walking to and from the store took up the bulk of my time on the phone. I was going to make a return trip to Target because my debit card was rejected and I had to return home to find my credit card that was still in the yard somewhere. The third “officer” that I was passed off to caught on and he put me on speaker while a room full of scammers cussed me out. I laughed.
People are being taken advantage of by phone scams. Help spread the word, and prepare yourself to waste the scammer’s time.