Does “Heather” from the IRS want to make a “legal allegation” against you?

Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com

An IRS audit is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, and I speak from experience. Not only do a lot of people consider themselves my “worst enemy,” but I have personally endured an arduous IRS audit that dragged on for years.

I’ll tell you how it ended in a moment.

But first, let’s consider the case of Dave Cochran, who contacted me because he thought he was about to get audited. Cochran pays his taxes and had every reason to believe he wasn’t in any trouble.

Until he received the following voice mail message:

Hi, officer Heather Grey from Internal Revenue Service, and the hotline to my division is (202) 506-8045. I repeat, it’s (202) 506-8045.

Don’t disregard this message and do return the call before we take any legal allegation against you. Goodbye and take care.

“I was shook-up for a minute,” he says.

A scam? Without question.

No government agency calls to threaten a “legal allegation” against you. Officer Heather sounds as if she doesn’t have a clue or, more likely, lives somewhere outside the United States, where they do make legal “allegations.”

Also, do you know any IRS agents who tell people they’re investigating to “take care”? I don’t.

More digging reveals this is a common scheme. The IRS even posted something about it on its site recently.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

First of all, if you’re being audited, you’ll be contacted by mail. That’s how I got the happy news.

If you do happen to get a call from the IRS, no employee will ever ask for a credit card number by phone or ask for a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. What’s more, says the IRS, if someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.

Cochran breathed a sigh of relief after discovering the complete bogosity of Heather’s voice mail.

But the lessons of her call, and questions raised by it, linger like the foul stench of a scam.

When it comes to voice mail, many of us lower our scam filter. Who would dare scam you by leaving a voice mail? (The answer is: you’d be surprised.)

Heather’s IRS scam is pretty obvious from the language she used to the callback phone number. My question is: What happens when this gets more sophisticated?

I mean, when the scam artists leverage big data, combining your personal information with a more plausible IRS story, making all of this more difficult to catch — then what?

Take away the English problems and let’s say, for argument’s sake, that “Heather” decides to start accepting credit cards. Then she or her handlers uncover just enough financial information to make a plausible claim by phone or email. I think anyone could fall for it.

My audit was one for the books, which makes me a likely candidate to fall for an IRS scam. The agency claimed I had taken one or two incorrect deductions while I was overseas. It took almost three years to prove I was right, and it’s not the kind of thing I’d care to repeat. People like “Heather” know that, and they are preying on our aversion to the IRS.

Do you think the IRS scam has legs?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Mark Carrara

    because it was voice mail not email

  • Mark Carrara

    Has anyone called to talk to Heather?

  • Helio

    iPad only receives messages via iMessage, when shared with your iPhone contacts.

  • Helio

    iOS7 is the last release of Apple OS for mobile devices, as iPhones and iPads. Apple computers use other OS , called Mac OS.

  • VoR61

    We use an Android app called Mr. Number that works well for call/text blocking: It has three categories: Hangup, Voice mail, and Exceptions. Options include Numbers beginning with, Private/blocked numbers, Numbers not in my contacts, and others.

    This configuration has worked well for these types of calls:

    Hangup – Private/blocked numbers
    Voice mail – Numbers not in my contacts
    Exceptions – we entered our area code (you can enter 3-10 digits)

    Finally, we recorded a voice mail that is a long as our provider permits, so that automated calls will likely end before a voice mail can be left. So far so good

  • Helio

    Thanks! ;-)

    But I know I have several flaws in my English, which I’m trying to improve!

  • Helio

    This was a very common scam here. The current one is sending SMS messages stating you won a prize, but you need to buy pre-paid telephone cards and send it to some mobile #, in order to collect the prize. Usually other state area code.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Plan “B”: I long ago erased my personal recorded answer and defaulted to the factory voicemail on my machine. I now get virtually 100 percent hang ups from unsolicited callers. Folks who know me know to leave a message.

  • VoR61

    Interesting. The point of the long voice mail message is for automated calls. Their message ends before our voice mail message does; thus we don’t get a VM messages from them. And, we do NOT have our names in our recorded message …

  • Grant Ritchie

    Helio… congratulations! You have just won a year’s “Diamond Direct” access to Chris Elliott’s advice, AND “Platinum Elite” access to the Comments forum here at Elliott.org. Please remit $100 to Grant Ritchie to collect your prize. Again… congratulations! :-)

  • Grant Ritchie

    I don’t know why it works the way it does… but it does. For years, the only automated calls I’ve received are from politicians, because, of course, they exempted themselves from the restrictions of the “Do Not Call” legislation.

  • Grant Ritchie

    I don’t have an iPhone so I guess I’m SOL. Thanks, though.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Thanks, Helio.

  • fshaff

    Interesting about the EZ-Pass thing. I recently vacationed in Florida and rented a car and got the EZ Pass through the rental agency. I probably broke even on the charge and what tolls I went through. Anyway, about a week after I got home, I got an email from EZ-Pass telling me that I had some unpaid tolls to pay for my recent trip to Florida. I just deleted it and haven’t seen any more emails from them or any extra charges to my rental. Curious to find out how they “knew” I was in Florida and how they got my email. Oh, we also got a couple of phone calls from Windows tech support, but my wife handled those real well.

  • fshaff

    I have a Samsung Galaxy S-III with the Android system. I can block calls on that, too.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Ha! As an old, out-of-touch retiree, all I have is an $8.33 a month AT&T GoPhone. I’m lucky I can even receive calls, let alone block them. :-)

  • AH

    and the dead give away is that those things are addressed to “dear taxpayer” not the recipent’s real name.

  • AH

    sigh, i get rachel’s messages left on my voice mail… and i don’t have a credit card, either. lol

  • AH

    i only have a generic voice mail message, but there are still robocallers who leave a (cut off) message anyway. the worst i’ve experienced lately was some collection agency where the robo thingy kept saying, “please hold for the next available customer service representative.” gimme a break! robo calling then asking me to wait to talk to someone i don’t want to talk to in the first place?!?!
    finally managed to discover that they were a collection agency calling for some woman i don’t know. (although i have heard about her from time to time over the last 5 years i’ve had this phone number. where on earth do they dig up these phone numbers?)

  • Zarkov505

    The “Do Not Call” list has no actual enforcement mechanism. My home landline has been on the Do Not Call list since BEFORE I actually got a chance to buy the telephone for it.

    The one that took the cake, however, was the telemarketing call I got one day in Dallas. While I was in the hospital. On the hospital room telephone. I was barely strong enough to say very unkind words to the poor telemarketer.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I got into scam-baiting about 10 years ago. I remember this one guy. It was the typical Nigerian 419 scam. But I played along. He told me he needed $1000. So I wired him $1. When he complained I said, “I don’t know how that happened, they must’ve forgot to punch in the zeros”.

    So we went back an forth for about two weeks. That’s when I told him I was flying to Nigeria on business. Now he’s really excited, because he’s probably planning on kidnapping me and not letting me go until he’s stolen my very last dime.

    So I give him an Air France flight number I looked up online and tell him I’m gonna be on that flight. Now, of course I didn’t use my real name in my communications with this guy. I told him, at the beginning of this whole thing, that my name was Bernard Rubble, most people call me Barney. Now, I don’t actually KNOW if he was at the airport holding a sign that said “Barney Rubble”, but I always like to believe he was.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    I’m right on it, Mark; expect $1500 plus more because I like you.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    This is funny Raven, an air horn, love it. I’ve taken to pounding the receiver smartly on the desk several times. Probably doesn’t do any good, but it makes me feel better.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    All depends on how dumb people are. I had a guy calling my house and my office (no clue how he got both numbers) looking for Dan before I finally picked up the phone and read him the riot act. He was astonished that “my husband” had not told me about our terrible IRS problems. In retrospect, he was pretty good … except for the accent. I’m sorry for people who fall for these things, it’s hard to believe anyone can be so gullible. As far as IRS audits, Chris, my real one was 20 years ago and I still haven’t gotten over it. We ended up owing $342 but the CPA bill was $15K.

  • MarkKelling

    LOL

    That was the exact wording of an email I got last week. But I had never heard of that person so not sure why he thought I was a friend. :-)

  • Helio

    Ritchie, the last time I turned away a house… I do believe I had rejected at least two cars too ;-)

  • PolishKnightUSA

    My mother liked to play with them. She’d go ‘uh huh uh huh’ while reading a book or watching TV and let them go on a spiel for a half hour. Then say she was interested and had to get her credit card and put the phone down and just let them stew until they decided to hang up.

    The worst thing to do is hang up. That’s what they expect and it helps to reduce the amount of time they waste.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I dated an IRS officer. Once. It was a blind date and I was being relaxed and casual and asked what she did for a living and she said, as if making a courtroom testimony: “I work as enforcement officer for the IRS”.

    It sucked the air out of the room.

    It made me think to myself as to how some jobs are difficult but necessary. Taxes have to be paid and someone has to enforce them just like someone has to write speeding tickets or parking tickets but one hopes that someone will use their authority justly and without malice. It’s tough for them to live with themselves and for someone to date them.

    And it didn’t work out.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I personally think a property tax is a great idea because it’s naturally progressive and difficult to cheat. The rich pay annually in proportion to what they own and the poor who spend all their money on food and rent, would owe nothing. Auditing would be performed at the assessment side: Figuring out what a particular property is worth and what counts as property (If you put all your money into gold coins and bury them in the backyard, do you avoid paying taxes as if you put your money into a bank account?)

    Another factor are exceptions. Should a family farm with a high net worth be taxed at a rate that would effectively put the farm out of business?

    All that said, enforcement will always be necessary but it’s a matter of simplifying the code and making it naturally fair which the current income tax fails at miserably since sheltering income is trivial (once put into investments, it can be quickly smurfed and reduced to the lowest rate.) That’s how Bill Gates’ dad became rich: bribing, er, contributing to legislators to get complex tax code written and then charging the wealthy to get them exempt.

  • JewelEyed

    I’ve always wanted to get a male caller like that and be totally sexually inappropriate in conversation to see if he goes for it or hangs up on me. If he goes for it, I’m thinking ear bleedingly loud metal until he hangs up. lol