By Mary O’KEEFE
Recently community members have reported incidents of an apparent telephone scam involving people who claim they are IRS (Internal Revenue Service) representatives.
Susan Eatherton, a La Crescenta resident, had received a message on her phone machine.
“I thought it was odd,” said Eatherton. “It was a woman and she said ‘This call is for you.’”
This was the first “odd” thing that caught Eatherton’s attention.
The woman on the recording stated that it was important that she be called back and left two tracking numbers.
Eatherton didn’t know what this “important” call was about, but it seemed official so she called the number back.
“This [man] answered the phone and was very short, curt and became very rude,” Eatherton recalled. “He said, ‘We are calling because there are discrepancies with the information you provided and our [IRS] records.’”
He continued to tell her that the alleged IRS agency thought she was about to run.
“He told me, ‘There will be a police officer at your home in two hours to arrest you,’” she said.
The man told her the IRS and police would seize her home as well as personal items, credit cards and ATM cards. They would also take possession of her passport.
“My mind was going in 100 directions,” she said.
She tried to ask him a question. “He said, ‘Ma’am, don’t interrupt when I am talking to you.’”
She said that often IRS agents are portrayed as angry and curt, but this was going too far even for the toughest IRS agent.
The man then told her she owed about $4,500. She apparently had not been sending in her payments on time, according to the scam artist.
The problem with that scenario was Eatherton didn’t send in IRS payments.
She mentioned this, but the man told her the police would be at her door and hung up the phone.
Eatherton called Glendale police and reported the incident and then called CVW. While talking about the incident, she called the number she had been given. The man on the other end of the line answered as the IRS – Investigation Bureau.
“We see a lot of these types of ‘fishing scams’ [like], ‘Your son’s in jail and needs money [immediately]’ or ‘You won the lottery’ – that one has been around for awhile,” said Sgt. Dan Suttles, Glendale Police Dept.
He added scams seem to go in cycles and lately it has been the IRS scam.
The problem with these types of scams is even if law enforcement is able to track the phone number it usually leads to areas outside of the country.
“[The callers] are very convincing. They have a script and this is what they do for work,” Suttles said.
Sometimes the victim can hear a series of phone banks behind the person attempting the scam. This is because that is where they are calling from – this is a business for them, he said.
La Crescenta resident Paul Rabinov also received a call from the fake IRS.
“They sounded official,” he said, “at first.”
But then things just didn’t add up. The person on the other end of the line told Rabinov that he owed money to the IRS, and even though Rabinov asked questions, he received very few answers.
“They wouldn’t give me a lot of [personal information]. I asked for a tax [identification] number; they hung up,” Rabinov said.
There have been other reports of similar incidents, not just concerning the IRS but utility companies, non-profit organizations calling over the phone for support and several others – some creative, some not so creative.
“One of the common threads is the method of payment. They will tell [the victim] to buy a [prepaid cash] card,” Suttles said.
The caller will want the victim to pay quickly and to pay in a method that cannot be traced or stopped, as with a check.
“Their job is to get you to hurry … to make you pay this now or your power will be shut off, or it is some type of emergency and money needs to be sent now,” Suttles said.
That is when telling the victim the police will respond to their door, as in the IRS scam, is a powerful threat.
“We try to explain to [the victims] that this is not something police will do, not with the IRS,” he said.
Suttles advised residents to trust their instincts.
“If it sounds outrageous, it usually is,” he said.
Residents are advised that if someone contacts them asking for money or calls to tell them they have won the lottery but they do not remember buying a ticket to step back, take a breath and ask questions.
“Go online and get the number of the [agency that is supposedly calling],” Suttles said. And then call that agency to verify. People can always call local law enforcement, too.