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.