By Joseph Robertia
Aaron Holland, of Sterling, has for more than a decade had his taxes and financial handlings done professionally by a certified public accountant, so it struck him as odd when he got a call Friday from someone purporting to be an Internal Revenue Service agent.
“They said they were calling from Washington, D.C., and that I was being indicted for tax evasion,” Holland said.
This startled Holland, and the caller ID confirmed a 202 area code, which is correct for the D.C. area, but it’s a prefix that has also become common in recent years with phishing scammers using cloned cellphones and sometimes calling from as far away as Jamaica, India, Thailand and Africa.
This was the first hint that something was not right, but the more Holland talked with the “agent,” the more he began to suspect someone nefarious was on the other end of the line.
“He said his name was David Hernandez and he had a case number, but he wouldn’t give me any more information other than that, and his English was very broken, and there was a lot of background noise, like it was a telemarketer calling,” Holland said.
This supposed IRS caller knew some details about Holland, but much of it wasn’t quite correct or up to date.
“He knew a lot, but all public information. He knew my name and address, but he thought he was talking to someone in Arkansas, not Alaska. And he had my kids’ names, but some of them are married now and have different names, he was using their old names,” Holland said.
Then came the part that made Holland’s heart pound the inside of his rib cage. The man said Holland owed $30,000 in back taxes, and if he didn’t settle up within the next 30 minutes, police would be sent to his home within the next 72 hours to arrest him.
“That’s when I hung up and immediately called my tax person,” he said.
John W. Clonan Jr., CPA-PC of Pinnacle Tax Associates, said the IRS has for the last few months been issuing notices warning about these kind of tax-related rackets.
“It’s a very sophisticated phishing scheme that has been really hot and heavy lately, targeting a lot of people, particularly recent immigrants, trying to scare them into giving up information” he said. “They’re looking for quick money and their usual tactic is to ask the person to wire money, or provide debit or credit card information, or a bank account number and PIN.”
The likelihood of the IRS contacting someone by phone, out of the blue, particularly someone who uses a tax preparer, is next to never, Clonan said.
“The IRS never asks for the kind of stuff they were asking of Mr. Holland and they’d never call directly. They’d call me as a CPA. The average person would only get a call from the IRS after having at least three or four contacts by mail with certified letters,” he said.
Clonan said the best course of action to take if receiving a similar call is to give them no information.
“Never give any information over the phone unless you’ve initiated the call and that call is to a published IRS number and extension,” he said.
As in Holland’s case, the caller gave him a number to call back, but it was not a real IRS number.
“Always call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040, get the main switchboard, and then ask for the person or extension,” he said.
If the caller attempts to threaten or bully, Clonan said the best action is to say, “‘I understand the urgency of your need. I deal with such-and-such tax person. Here’s there phone number.’ That’s the best way to get them to back off.”
When all else fails, hang up, Clonan said. Then contact the authorities to inform them of a potential fraudulent scheme.
“The organization to call is the U.S. Treasury at 1-800-366-4484. They’re looking for any and all info they can get on people doing this kind of thing,” he said.
Holland called the Department of the Treasury and told them all he could. He was surprised to find out a few hours later that a cousin in Wasilla got a similar call from a phishing scammer, which again spoke to his belief that the criminals were using public information. He, his cousin and Clonan all called the Treasury Department to report the incidents.
To learn more about this and other IRS-related phishing scams, visit the IRS page devoted to this subject at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Phishing-and-Other-Schemes-Using-the-IRS-Name.