This is an updated column. It originally ran Aug. 12, 2016.
I called the number once. A man identified himself as an IRS employee. Then he asked a question that was, I guess, meant to frighten me.
“Do you have a criminal defense attorney?”
“No, why?” I asked.
“This is an important matter with the IRS and you need an attorney,” he said.
I told the man I knew this was a scam. He immediately hung up on me.
Before I share my next would-be swindle story, I need to tell you that I sometimes call the number back because I want to see what the scammers are saying to get people to send money. Don’t do what I did. Don’t engage these criminals. If you get one of these calls, hang up immediately.
But there was the time I got a call that had me stunned by the brazen and bizarre way the guy tried to scam me.
The caller identified himself as Frank Cooper. I checked the caller ID, and the number came up “Jamaica 1-876-387-5721.” The man first claimed he was calling on behalf of Publishers Clearing House.
I had won $2.5 million, he said. Oh, and I would also be getting an S-Class Mercedes-Benz — “champagne white.”
In an effort to convince me that the prize was real, he even gave me a check number — 5122285365. He told me to repeat the number, which I did as I played along.
By the way, I could hear others in the background spinning a similar tale.
Anyway, I was told that a “licensed merchant banker” near my neighborhood was ready to hand me my check, which was in a locked briefcase. The caller gave me what he said was the combination code — 4981776. Again, he asked me to repeat the number.
And then came the con.
“But you can’t get the money unless you register with the IRS and pay a fee of $8,000,” he said.
“Wait, if this is a prize, why do I have to pay a fee?”
“Ma’am, do you want your money or not?” the man said, raising his voice with an indignant tone as if I were the fool. “How do you not know that you must register with the IRS?”
Then he switched his language to sound as if he were actually representing the IRS.
I was instructed to withdraw the cash from my bank account, split it into two bundles of $4,000 and put the money in envelopes that I should wrap in newspaper. Then I was supposed to make my way to the nearest FedEx Office parking lot and call when I got there to get the address to mail the money overnight express.
“That hardly seems safe,” I said. “What proof do I have that you have received the cash?”
“Get insurance on the mailing,” the guy said.
I clearly was asking too many questions, so Cooper put his “general manager Ray Kingston” on the line.
“Are you ready to send the money?” the supposed Kingston asked.
Tired of this foolishness and fraud, I said, “Now, you know this is a scam.”
The next thing I heard was a dial tone.
The sad thing is that lots of people are falling for schemes like these. In many cases, the scammers threaten people with arrests to try to scare them into paying. The IRS would never ask you to pay your taxes using a gift card. The IRS will not ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
The losses stemming from IRS impersonation cases from October 2013 through March 2022 amount to $85 million, according to TIGTA. The scams involved almost 16,038 victims. Victims span across the United States, but California, New York, Texas, Florida and New Jersey are the top five states based on the number of victims. And those are just the reported cases.
If you get such a call or if you’ve fallen victim, go to tigta.gov. Click the button for “Report Waste, Fraud, Abuse.” Become more informed on IRS phone scams and other impostor scams by going to ftc.gov/imposters.
And if someone calls claiming to be from the IRS, hang up immediately unless you initiated contact on a matter you know is legit.
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