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

Andrew F. Kazmierski /

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?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • sirwired

    As long as there are people that still fall for your classic “Nigerian 419 fraud”, there will certainly be people that think it’s a proper thing for the IRS to request payment via only Western Union or pre-paid debit card (Which, on a scale of implausibility, is certainly more believable (the bar isn’t high here…) than the idea that I’m owed an inheritance by some African potentate.)

  • PsyGuy

    Well if crime (such as scams) isn’t going away, then they have to get more sophisticated.

  • Raven_Altosk

    The Engrish is a dead giveaway.
    Also, phone numbers mean nothing. You can spoof a number from anywhere in the world.

    But you could still have some fun with Heather. Call her from a pay phone (they do exist) and when she answers, deploy an airhorn in her ear. Maybe a busted ear drum will teach her a lesson.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Hey, hey. I’m a Nigerian Prince and I need you to wire me $3000 so I can smuggle my fortune out of the country!

  • frostysnowman

    This happened to us just a couple of months ago. It was a two-part thing. The first message, from a 202 number, was left by a woman with an Indian accent, obviously reading from a script saying my husband was going to be audited and if he didn’t call back she hoped God would protect us from what would happen next. I ignored the message. Later the same day, I got another call from a 202 number that I decided to answer. An IRS “agent” with a British accent said they were looking for my husband, and when I told the guy he was not available, he said my husband must call back right away or he would be arrested at work immediately. When I laughed and called him a liar, he called me a bloody bitch and hung up, and I haven’t heard from them again. I knew what I was dealing with, but I do worry that this guy will get a more vulnerable person on the phone one day and scam him/her out of some serious money.

  • BillCCC

    I am not falling for that again.


    As long as people are intimidated by the IRS then these scams will flourish–becoming more sophisticated along the way. If I do not get written communication via US Mail from a government entity, then I assume it is a scam. I was bombarded for a while with phone calls and emails to an address I use strictly for my on-line shopping regarding my failure to appear in court in NYC. I was given the opportunity to take care of the problem by paying my substantial fine over the phone to avoid jail. I finally spoke to the scammers one day and told them I would have my brother-in-law and my eldest nephew, who are both police officers, look into why I have a fine in NYC when I have not been there in over 10 years. End of that call and have not been bothered since.

  • LadySiren

    Had one of those tech support scammers call me the other night. Been waiting for this moment for SO long. My voice went up three octaves and my IQ went down 30 points as I let him try to help me find my Windows key…on my MacBook.

    I’m apparently not that good of an actress because I was only able to string him along for about six minutes before he figured it out. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

  • Richard Smith

    Ah yes, the annual audit… My tax preparer is an enrolled agent, and handles all of it, very pain free for me.

    As such, any foolish scam like this would be obvious….

  • Richard Smith

    Ha, good one. Like a support call I had when I had trouble buying an airline ticket back in the late 1990’s while at work.

    Support: What version of windows are you running?
    Me: X11R5

  • Len Oxman

    Twice was enough?

  • Chris Johnson

    Great article, Chris, especially since I’m a tax practitioner myself that does compliance and audit representation, among other things. Besides ignoring bogus phone calls like the one you mentioned, sometimes there are bogus IRS emails as well. Not nearly as often as the Nigerian prince emails, but they do come once in a while, complete with the IRS logo, saying you owe money and to click on a link (presumably to download malware) or contact them right away by phone. I’ve had a few clients get these emails and I’ve told them to send them straight to their spam folder, as the IRS would NEVER initiate contact by email.

  • Jeff Kolker

    As a CPA, I get a couple of calls a year regarding things like this. No problem to see it’s a scam, and tell them so. So, if at all possible, talk to a tax professional if in doubt. Ounce of prevention…

  • emanon256

    I got the same call once, only I answered. They kept saying I would get arrested if I didn’t pay immediately by phone, I laughed at them and told them to come arrest me. They kept telling me that this is much more serious than I am taking it. I knew it was a scam, and wasted their time for quite a while. They were relentless, and I was having fun.

    I too have been contacted by the real IRS twice. It was by mail and included my tax forms. The first time it turned out there was a mistake and I was due a much larger refund. I fired my accountant and have filed myself ever since. The next time was because they wanted me to substantiate a deduction, and I provided the additional paperwork and all was good. I wouldn’t call either an audit.

  • emanon256

    Really? Here is my ABA number and bank account number. Lets make some money!!!

    Sad how many people fall for that. I had a relative fall for a similar scam, even went as far as meeting the scammer in person, at her expense.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Damn it, Em, DON’T DO IT! Have you learned nothing from Chris? Oh, wait. :-)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Do you also need to tell the OP that the emails and phone calls about a package that can’t be delivered are also scams? Or the E-ZPass emails about not paying a toll are scams? Or that absolutely no one from “the Windows technical support group” is going to initiate a phone call to advise him of problems with his computer (hint: it’s a scam)?

    And yep, I’m feeling just the teensy-weensy bit snarky today.

  • Linda

    I tell those “Windows tech” callers that I don’t have a computer. It confuses the heck out of them ;)

  • BillCCC

    Fool me once….

  • Christopher Elliott

    Sending the money now, your highness.

  • emanon256

    I keep getting the undeliverable package calls and e-mails, the NY missed court e-mails, and the “Some one is trying to send you an e-card” e-mails lately. I have yet to get the windows technical support group.

  • Christopher Elliott


  • Grant Ritchie

    Chris…idea for a future column. What ever happened to the “Do Not Call List”? When it first became available, I signed up and my scam calls went down to zero… for years! In the last year or two, though, they’ve crept up to three or four calls every day (and yes, I’ve made sure that I’m still on the list). I think the scammers have figured out that Uncle Sam has no teeth as regards “Do Not Call.” :-(

  • Christopher Elliott

    I like that idea. Thanks!

  • Pegtoo

    Unfortunately, they’re very good at sending official-looking crap through the mail too. Let’s be careful out there!


    I tell them computers are the work of the devil and that I destroyed mine with a hammer and burned the parts that were left.

  • Kate

    Have gotten at least one of these calls a month for about a year. The IRS informed me that they never make phone calls unless they have already asked for your permission by mail.

  • emanon256

    iOS7 allows me to block numbers, which is great. Every time I get a call like this, I block it and never hear from them again.

    I still think the Do Not Call needs more teeth. A few years ago, pre iOS7, When I reported AT&T for continuing to call me and trying to sell me home phone service, someone from legal at AT&T called me to discuss it, I explained what was going on. She kept in touch with me for several weeks while they investigated, and they found some lines had been hijacked by scammers and she said they would work with the police. I was impressed, but it could have also been lip service. but I think it was AT&T doing the heavy lifting, not the feds.

  • Grant Ritchie

    iOS7? As in what I have on my iPad? I’ve never heard of the ability to block numbers through iOS7. How do you do it? Thanks.

  • frostysnowman

    We got the EZ Pass email last week.

  • emanon256

    I can do it on my iPhone, not sure about the iPad. Just click the (i) next to the number on the recent call list, and at the very bottom is the option to “Block this Caller”. Then you can go to Settings > Phone > Blocked to manage the blocked callers.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Probably won’t work with an iPad, but “Thanks.”

  • bpepy

    Watch out for the crying grandson (daughter) in trouble, arrested, in jail, etc and can only be helped by large amounts of money being wired. A friend who I NEVER thought would fall for something like that is out $3000! Another friend asked the “grandson”, “What’s your middle name” and the scammer hung up!

  • bpepy

    What’s iOS7? Can you do this from your computer? I don’t have an iPhone.

  • Helio

    In my country, you cannot pay anything to the government with credit or debit cards… They issue a bank slip (I hope I found the correct translation…), and you pay with money or via bank account transfer.

  • AJPeabody

    I have been getting repeated robocalls from the Google Maps scammers, and they can’t be blocked because they change the spoofed caller ID every time. i can’t even try the profane hangup routine since no one alive is on the line. Even the TeleZapper doesn’t stop them.

  • MarkKelling

    It is specific to the phone.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Oh, those people are fun playmates. I said sarcastically to one, “Oh? There’s something wrong with my computer?”

    And the dumb (naughty word removed, but I’ve met nicer dogs than this one) said, “Why are you using that tone with me?”

    I replied: “Because I’m insulted that you think I would fall for you scam (insert nasty string of epitaths here).”

    And she called me a “jerk” and hung up. LOL.

  • MarkKelling

    Friend, I took an unexpected trip out of this country to the city of London in England country. I have my wallet stolen with everything – plain ticket, passports, credit and cash. I cannot complete my hotel stay purchase and be allowed to leave until I find money. Please wire immediately 1500$US to …

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    +1. Had 2 calls already today. One of the Caller IDs even had “Final Notice” on it!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I haven’t had that one yet (knock on wood).

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    A relative had one of those phone calls from her “favorite” grandson. She played along, got as much information as she could and then hung up on the guy. One of her friends from church also got that call. So the two of them used the church “phone tree” and got everyone at church notified, who then notified everyone they knew. The two ladies also called the local police, who notified all the wire services and the local businesses that sell those prepaid cards in that town. That covered most of that small town, so the scammers were shut down. Yay to granny power!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I was getting a couple every day for a while. I left them in my Spam folder to amuse myself by looking at the variations in spelling.

  • emanon256

    Its only for the iPhone, thoguh I have heard android phones have a similar feature.

  • bpepy


  • Mike Z

    This is a product of our tax code and the system by which it is allowed to operate (the IRS). If we had a much simpler code and the government didn’t empower it to ruin your life, then scams like this would have less chance of working. Once again, the very people who claim to know what is best for all of us, create a system which we fear and will do about anything to avoid a run in, and in some cases, we get scammed.

    I should also add that I do enjoy getting calls from Rachel in card services about my credit card, which I do not have. lol

  • pauletteb

    As long as my TV is on, the incoming number for my land line shows up on the screen. If I don’t recognize the number, I don’t even bother to get up. I report all the robocall numbers to the FCC. I know it probably does no good, but it makes me feel better.

  • pauletteb

    You speak (or at least write) better English than many people who live here!

  • Miami510

    A close cousin to this scam is the “809 Area Code Scam.” How many of us might fall for a bogus IRS agent, with a polite, non-threatening, American accented voice, asks us to call
    his office just to clear up a matter, adding that it will take only a moment and avoid a protracted information gathering ordeal?

    “809” is in the British Virgin Islands and they are able to charge you exorbitant telephone charges that are directly proportional to the time you spend on the phone call.

  • Annie M

    Why didn’t anyone think to report this email to their email provider? Or Heathers email provider?

  • Mark Carrara

    In our local paper a few years back there was a story about an elderly women who went to the bank to withdraw a couple thousand in cash. The teller asked why and the lady said she needed to get get her grandson out of jail.. Further question made it apparent it was a scam. The teller told the lady that and she said no it wasn’t because she had gotten a call. The teller called the police to help explain the situation to the lady and after a long discussion she still insisted she needed the money. Because it is not illegal to be stupid she was given the money and was soon on its way to somewhere.

    So yes scams will continue.

  • 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.

  • John Keahey

    One way to handle such a return phone number is to enter the number in Google. I did with this number and there were numerous entries showing it was connected to a scam — and one with “Heather”.

  • 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 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


    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