This story starts with an automated call. One that if answered, plays a poorly recorded message informing you it's "the final notice" from the IRS. The recording goes on to state that the IRS is planning a lawsuit against you, and if you don't return this call, you could face fines and jail time.
It's a scam, but we've returned the call, and recorded the entire thing so you can hear what it sounds like.
The last time XSS recorded a scam phone call, the caller pretended to work for Microsoft support. This most recent call came from 509-557-3716, and at first, all you hear is a recording that sounds like an angry Speak & Spell.
The recording tells you that the IRS is going to file a lawsuit, and this call is your final warning. The call itself is designed to scare you, and based on the number of reports online – it works.
That's unfortunate too, because the IRS would never call you about something like this. They use certified letters delivered via the USPS, anyone who has ever been audited can tell you about those thick envelopes that contain mountains of paperwork.
After the message ends, the call disconnects. For most people, that's the end of the scam. Yet, the heart of the scam starts once the call is returned.
Given that this was a chance to expose another scam, XSS did something you should never do – we returned the call.
Almost immediately, the phone was answered and we were greeted by someone who didn't give his name. However, once I gave mine and explained that I was calling about a message left by the IRS, I was transferred to Mike Wilson, who gave an "IRS ID" of RN531.
The name and the ID are both false, but it's clear that Mike was working with a detailed script. Mike starts by confirming my name and address, but for most people this information is public record. He was wrong about my details, but that isn't important.
These details though can be a big part of the scam. For someone who was already hooked by the previous call, these personal details could be all the scammers needed to prove legitimacy – after all, the person on the phone knows who you are and where you live. For many people, that's frightening.
One of the first things that stood out on the call, hammering home that something wasn't right, was the fact that Mike couldn't pronounce my name, and the phrasing used to repeat the address was broken. He was reading, line by line, from a formatted script, but he isn't used to it.
Mike: Now be sure that I have your address, tomorrow morning, be at your home, because the local sheriff police department, the local officer with the arrest warrant to arrest you, so just be at your residence...
Me: Sure, that's fine. But what for?
In an admonishing tone, Mike seems skeptical that I don't know why I'm going to be arrested, but he's happy to share those details with me.
As it turns out, "the IRS department" audited my taxes over the last four years, and "found a miscalculation" worth $4,200 USD.
If you listen to the recording, you'll hear Mike stammer though the script as he reads my arrest affidavit.
As luck would have it, I can settle the matter and avoid being arrested. When asked to pick the settlement, I suggested $350.00, and Mike appeared to be fine with this amount.
Now, I just need to pay, but credit cards won't do. Mike suggested MoneyGram as a form of payment, and was kind enough to find locations close to me where I could wire funds.
Moreover, kind man that he was, Mike called my cell phone so that he could walk me though the process when I was in the local CVS. The number he called from is 202-239-0447, which is also part of the scam.
It's important to note, I never left the house.
When you hear me speaking to "CVS" and asking for a form on the recording, all I did was run my finger over the microphone and pose the question to my cat.
Again, the IRS will never call you in an attempt to collect payment like this. They will never call you to inform you of a lawsuit, nor would they call you to warn of a pending arrest.
"It is critical that all taxpayers continue to be wary of unsolicited telephone calls from individuals claiming to be IRS employees," said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
"This scam, which is international in nature, has proven to be the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive, they are relentless and they are ruthless. Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash," George added.
This scam is designed for people who are likely to fall for it. So while 9 out of 10 people will never make that return phone call, the one person who does is likely to be fooled.
According to figures released by Inspector General's office earlier this year, there have been roughly 290,000 contacts since October 2013, and nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million because of the scam.
"This is a crime of opportunity, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to take away the opportunity," the Inspector General added. "Do not engage with these callers. If they call you, hang up the telephone."
If you get a phone call claiming to be the IRS, and you are unsure, do not return the call. Instead, call the IRS directly, and inquire about the recorded message. Their number is 800-829-1040.
If you don’t owe taxes, but you have been contacted, you can report the scam by calling 800-366-4484.
The first part of the scam recording ends at 12:49. From that point on, Mike had called my cell phone to complete the transaction. In all, the call is about 25 minutes.
Other items of note:
- Towards the end, when I expose myself, calling the scam out for what it is, Mike uses some NSFW language, and disconnects.
- Addresses and phone numbers have been edited in the recording. However, the locations listed by Mike are not.
- The address Mike originally listed as mine was incorrect, and the second address I gave him as a correction was likewise false. So he was researching locations based on bad data. However, the businesses referenced by him are legitimate MoneyGram locations.
- The name Mike uses for the person who was to receive the money is likely a false ID. In fact, Mike is obviously a fake name as well.
Finally, once again, the IRS will never call you. The best way to avoid scams like the one recorded below is to hang-up, and do not return any threatening calls claiming to be from the IRS.
The following recording is a copy of the voicemail the people running this IRS scam will leave when possible. The name is the same, but the number is different. This recording was shared with XSS by a reader not long after our story was published.