Insiders: Uncovering an IRS Phone Scam

phone scam
Posted at 11:00 PM, Jul 07, 2016
and last updated 2017-12-13 05:24:01-05

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) -- "The Insiders" take a closer look at a telephone scam, with callers claiming to be from the IRS.

The caller says you're being sued, and the only way to get out of it is to buy a debit card.

WTXL recorded one of these calls to show what scammers are trying to get.

When the Insiders got the scammers on the phone, they agreed to be recorded, even though they were clearly trying to pull one over on their target.

"They said they were from the IRS, and that I had made a miscalculation on my taxes, and they needed to talk to me about it," said Christine, the scammers' target. (Christine is not her real name. WTXL has changed it to protect her identity.)

It's her money that scammers wanted to take. After getting a call from them, she called the scammers back and recorded the conversation -- with their permission.

Christine: "I just wanted to safeguard. I'm a little bit nervous about this."

Scammer: "Alright, you can do that."

Christine: "Okay. Now, what kind of card do I need to purchase?"

The scammers claimed Christine needed to pay a bill through them -- immediately.

Scammer: "There is a lawsuit against you, and if you exactly want to take care of it, we can help you with that."

"He sounded very legitimate at first," Christine said. "Gave me his first and last name, gave me his badge number, and then started explaining what had happened."

The scammers told Christine to go to Walmart and buy an Apple iTunes debit card.

Christine: "You're asking me to buy an iTunes card and give that to you as payment. That just seems a little bit weird to me."

Scammer: "Okay. Let me explain to you how it will work, okay?"

Christine: "Okay."

Scammer: "You will get this card. I would be in need of some information from the card, so that we can verify that you have the funds of $485."

"At that point, it was almost comical," Christine said, "but if you don't know, and you might go do it, you're out a lot of money."

Experts say impersonating IRS agents has been around for a while, and so has this particular trap.

"We've fielded several calls -- meaning, probably hundreds of calls of this type of scam," said Officer David Northway of the Tallahassee Police Department. "There's always a new scam going on."

"It's part of what's considered a 'confidence crime,' said Allen Burkes, a senior fraud analyst with First Commerce Credit Union. "They're calling, trying to build your confidence in they are who they say they are."

Scammers find different ways to trick their targets -- including how they contact them. They can disguise their number to look like one coming from a government agency, but they're really calling from somewhere else.

The IRS was unavailable for comment, but its website says it will never "require you to use a specific payment method" like a debit card -- and it won't "threaten to bring in local police" to arrest you for not paying. But these scammers did both -- and Christine picked up on it.

"When I would ask questions about what was the mistake -- I do my own taxes. I would like to know where I made the mistake," said Christine, " and they're like, 'Oh, you can't get any of the documents until you pay the court fees."

"They prey on people. They prey on your emotions," Northway said. "They try to get you worked up, so that you'll just try to make it go away as fast as possible."

"They're very, very pushy," Burkes said. "They're very convincing in their methods. These people are professional con artists."

The IRS says phone scams headline its "Dirty Dozen" list for the 2016 filing season. If you get a call from an agent but know you don't owe any money, hang up immediately and don't give out any information.